What is a “team” and what is the best way to manage one in an organization? The most common definition of a team is “a group of people who work together” (Merriam-Webster, 2014). Though we all know from experience that teams are far more complicated—the more difficult the task and more diverse the members, the harder it is to get people to work together. Technically, a team is a “behavioral space” in which people act to create opportunities for and constraints to action. This dynamic force between opportunity and constraint requires thought, planning and, ultimately, management. Yet a team requires a delicate balance in the management of its members, the things that it does and the dynamics produced. If you have too much management there is too little freedom; too much hierarchy then too little community; and, too much exhortation then too little purpose. And, having a strong sense of purpose is key to cohere enduring teams and companies.
So how do we broaden the scope of employee freedom to innovate and solve problems, while managing less, without sacrificing focus, discipline and order? How do we create an environment where the spirit of community rather than the machinery of bureaucracy binds people together? How do we enlarge the sense of mission that people feel throughout the organization in a way that justifies extraordinary contribution? And, how do we ensure that people in teams deliver on time and within budget?
A number of companies, including Zappos, Nucor (steel), Morning Star (foods), WL Gore (Gore-Tex®), Johnsonville Foods, Valve Corp (games), Whole Foods, Netflix and parts of GE (aerospace) have developed purpose-focused, coherent organizations in which there are limited supervisors, managers or other hierarchy overseeing the work. In ALL of these, the teams doing the work manage the work.
In the next few weeks we will continue to think about effective team management… tune-in!