Focusing Teams on Performance

In an important study of teams in today’s organizations, Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith developed a commonsense understanding of what makes teams work. They suggest that, first and foremost, performance challenges are the best way to create teams, and that team basis including size, purposes, goals, skills approach, and accountability are often overlooked. The basic building blocks of teams: the skills of the team members, accountability of the team, and commitment of the team members. Katzenbach and Smith also found that it is most difficult to create teams at the very top of an organization, primarily due to many mistake assumptions about how teams work.

Katzenback and Smith also found some very surprising “uncommonsense” things about teams.

Finally, they claim that a few simple rules can greatly enhance team performance, especially when applied to teams at the top of an organization. First, team work assignments need to address specific concrete issues rather than broad generalizations. Second, work has to be broken own and assigned to subgroups and individuals. Teams are not the same as “meetings”. Third, team membership must be based on what each member can achieve and the skills that each has rather than on the formal authority or organizational position of the person. Fourth, each team member has to do roughly the same amount of work, or inevitably there will be differing commitments to the outcomes. Fifth, teams will work only if the traditional hierarchical pattern of communication and interaction is broken down. It is not the position you hold that is important but what you can contribute to the team. Finally top management teams have to work together like all other teams, focusing on their task and fostering an environment of openness, commitment and trust.

Conflict within Teams:

Conflicts emerge not only between teams but also within them. In an important book entitled Paradoxes of group Life, Kenwyn Smith and David Berg proposed a new way to understand such intra-group (within group) conflicts. Most people think that conflicts must be managed and resolved, but Smith and Berg suggest that such conflicts are essential to the very concept of group life. They see this insight as a paradox and they identify seven paradoxical aspects of groups: identity disclosure, trust, individuality, authority, regression, and creativity

The paradox of identity is that groups must unite people with different skills and outlooks precisely because they are different while those people usually feel that the group diminishes their individuality. The paradox of disclosure is that although the members of a group must disclose what is on their minds if the group is to succeed, fear of rejection makes them disclose only what they think others will accept. Likewise, the paradox of trust is that “for trust to develop in a group, members must trust the group” in the first place; at the same time, the group must trust its members for it is only through trusting that trust is built

The paradox of individuality means that a group can derive its strength only from the individual strengths of members who, when they participate fully in its work, might feel that their individuality has been threatened. Similarly the paradox of authority is that the group derives its power from the power of its individual members, but in joining the group, members diminish their individual power by putting it at the group’s disposal.

The paradox of regression stems from the fact that although individuals usually join groups hoping to “become more” than they were before they joined, the group asks them to be less so that the group can become more. In the sense, the group counters the individual desire to progress with pressure to regress. Finally, the paradox of creativity is that although groups must change in order to survive change means the destruction of the old as well as the creation of the new. Thus, any refusal to destroy limits the group’s creative potential.

Smith and Berg concluded that if a group cannot use conflict to its advantage, it cannot grow: If group members could learn to treat conflict as endemic to groupness, a natural consequence of differences attempting to act in an integrated way. They would understand that group conflict is just in the nature of things like the wetness of water and the warmth of sunlight.