“Team Building” isn’t sufficient

In the run up to the 2013 Federal Election the Government was beset with a leadership problem that, from an outsider’s viewpoint, was about choosing between a cohesive Cabinet team with an unpopular leader and a possibly dysfunctional Cabinet team with a popular leader.  In politics, popular leaders are an electoral asset, while internal process problems, if seized upon by Oppositions and media, are taken as an indication of government ineffectiveness.  So any government Cabinet team will be most effective when cohesive and with a leader popular with the electorate.

Business task teams face a similar dilemma. They, like a Cabinet team in government, cannot survive without support from outside.  A business team relies on resources from its company, and these resources are regulated by key decision makers. If the decision makers have a negative view of the team then it will be difficult for the team to survive.  Like a Cabinet team, its electorate will vote it out.

Professor Ancona of MIT pursued the question of how teams should interact with outsiders through long-term studies of task teams. She observed that teams followed different strategies. At one extreme there were teams who concentrated on their team building process and controlled information flow to the outside. At the other extreme there were teams who stressed their external relationships and promoted the team at every opportunity. In between were teams that put emphasis on team building and transparency without active promotion.

The studies showed that members of teams that emphasised team building were most satisfied and most cohesive. In contrast, members of the externally focused teams were least satisfied and least cohesive.

However, key outsiders had an entirely different view of the teams’ effectiveness.  They rated the teams that promoted themselves most effective, and those that concentrated on team building least effective.

To summarise the research, whether team members are satisfied and cohesive has little influence on outsiders, especially those controlling the purse strings. So the research advises team leaders that concentrating on internal team building without a strategy for promoting the team to influential outsiders will be counterproductive, and possibly fatal.

Mark Rosenberg