Are teams and groups really different? One would think that by just calling a group a team, something different has happened. However, change does not occur unless the behavior of people changes. The key dynamic that must be realized, and responded to, is Interdependence.
In our society, Independence is highly valued and Interdependence is not. We are born into dependence, roll into independence with a vengeance in our teens, and tend to get stuck there rather than progressing on to interdependence. However, if one accepts the importance of interdependence and reacts to its importance, individual behaviors and group dynamics change to the point where a group can become a team.
The concept is quite simple. If I acknowledge that I am dependent upon you to enable me to achieve success, I move out of a competitive relationship with you and into a supportive relationship. This is a big change within our independent culture in which competition is a key dynamic. A sports metaphor can help explain the dynamics.
If success is determined by interdependence, groups of golfers and swimmers (except for relays) do not make it to team status. However, groups of basketball players, hockey players and soccer players do. The first group of players is not interdependent whereas the second group is. It is interesting that in the second group, the item on which all members focus (the ball or puck) must be moved between them effectively and efficiently to achieve success. In this group, the input of one player directly affects the output of the next player. Once this dynamic is realized and responded to, teams can obtain remarkable achievements.
The team concept in academia is relatively new. At a Total Quality Management (TQM) symposium in the 80s, a college professor explained that academia could not help with teams because teamwork in academia was considered cheating. We have come a long way since then. However, there seems to still be a great lack of acknowledgement and responding to the interdependency dynamic in team formulation and operations. Teams usually fail when this dynamic is not incorporated. Lets discuss how teams get going.
The commonly accepted steps of team formation are forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning. Forming is the "how ya doin" stage, during which members get to know each other. Storming is the critical stage. It is during this stage that we sort out the roles and missions of the members. Expectations associated with power and prestige find themselves played out in emotional ego issues that must be addressed.
If these issues are successfully addressed, the team can move on to the other stages it will usually be successful. Many teams never make it beyond this stage and fail. Norming is the process of establishing expectations, roles and responsibilities based on the successful outcome of storming. At this point, you are ready to move forward and performance usually takes off. Adjourning simply means the team is disbanded because of successful completion of its task or because it is failing. The key point is that all teams go through this process. It is very important to manage this process to achieve success.
Additionally, and this is very often neglected, whenever the membership or the mission of the team changes, the process must be successfully completed again.
But why use teams anyway? While there are many reasons, here is a key one. Remember that ball or puck that the team worked on to achieve success. In the business world, or in any organizations trying to meet goals and objectives, the ball or puck is the IDEA that gets everything rolling and finds it way into the competitive service or product that we are after.
If we can get several people cooperatively working on the idea, we will surely improve its quality and beat the idea that does not go through this process. Sometimes it is the lone idea that is so good it wins. However, this is usually the exception and it is normally the improved idea that wins.
Now it is not my idea, or your idea – it is our idea.