Let’s just not build teams

Robert Brook writes an impassioned post about his distaste for artificial games and the overuse of competition as a motivator. I’ll write more on that later, but I wanted to pick up on one thing that Robert says at the bottom of his post:

Lindsay Marshall, of Bifurcated Rivets fame – I’m a long-time reader – reminds me of another grim manifestation: team building. Real teams come together organically, or emerge – they are rarely, if ever, built. That false application and bonhomie is dreadfully thin stuff, especially in comparison to emergent groups.

This reminds me of a story a friend of mine once told me about how he was chastised by his boss for not being a ‘team player’ because he didn’t join in office conversations about football.

Team building is not about creating groupthink. The kind of mutual respect and understanding that underpins the best teams is something that can’t be forced.

So here’s a thought: How about we use social media to build internal communities from which teams emerge spontaneously? How about providing people with the means and opportunity to get to know each other, understand each others’ skills and ways of working, and then let teams coalesce around projects? Turn Google’s 20% Time on its head: Instead of giving staff one day a week to work on whatever project they want, give them four days to work on projects that they get to choose from a list of things that the business needs doing (which they also get to contribute to), and one day where everyone has to do unavoidable unpopular tasks. If you share the good, you have to share the bad, after all!

What kind of company might that create? I would hazard a guess that it would be highly creative, innovative, productive and successful. It would be a company that retained its best staff because they are happier there than they could ever be in a traditional management structure. And if you only have one day to do chores, then the needless administrivia that gets created out of nowhere and which serves no purpose other than to feed the bureaucracy will just die off.

Who’s going to give it a go, then?

6 thoughts on “Let’s just not build teams

  1. Nice idea but I only really see it working with “grown ups” who usually get on with the job anyway.
    The “junior” staff (who aren’t necessarily young people or indeed even any of your young people) will continue to duck, weave, obviscate and still need micro-management. Unfortunately the advice from the “one minute manager” would still be perfectly applicable to them.

  2. I think if staff have no self-motivation then there’s a really big problem in your recruitment strategy! I also think that, given a good manager, even unmotivated staff can come to do really do great work.
    One of my early experiences of managing a team involved the building of a website. One guy in my team was a bit younger than me and very sceptical of both the project and my ability to manage him. I was a very hands-off manager, making sure that my team knew what needed to be done and letting them decide how best to do it. He really blossomed in that environment, did some great work, and at the end of the project told me how much fun it had been.
    So how much of the attitude of these “junior” staff is down to bad managers? Or a feeling of disenfranchisement? Or people feeling stuck in a dead-end job?
    I don’t buy it that there are people who inherently need micro-management. Some people may need help and guidance to learn how to work off their own motivation, especially if they have never had that opportunity before, but that’s not the same as being pathologically work-shy.

  3. And of course, despite almost certainly being junior to someone else, I am sure you, Kathryn are, inevitably, one of the “grown ups”.

  4. Well, as you know, Suw, the consulting work we’ve been doing with people from the Tuttle Club is a bit like that. My career inside organisations generally consisted of getting recruited, being forced to work with people I didn’t know, and then slowly encountering socially, people that I’d like to spend time with. Now, I put my effort into making friends and having fun and we look for ways that we can work together to do cools stuff that’s also profitable financially – much more productive and far more enjoyable.
    I think there’s going to be a lot more of this, outside organisations, before anyone has the guts to give it a go inside.

  5. OMG Suw, you’d turn the modern workplace inside out 🙂
    > a friend of mine … was chastised by his boss for not being a ‘team player’ because he didn’t join in office conversations about football.
    In a former company, we all had offices (small!) with doors. A co-worker was chastised for not being a ‘team player’ because he _closed his door_. (Why were we _given_ doors then??)
    I love your ideas. But my cynical side says it would never work. HR and upper management are too into the ideas of Command & Control.

  6. @lloyd And I can say from experience that the Tuttle way of consulting is a lot of fun! I do hope that I get to do more of it. I agree though that this way of working will prove itself outside of big business, or in start-up-land, before it makes its way into corporations.
    @Vicki Yes, that that’d be half the fun!! Although it would have to be a top-to-bottom transformation, including HR and upper management, otherwise it would be doomed from the off.

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