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The Trouble With Teamwork

Patrick Lencioni is one of my favorite business writers.  In his article "The Trouble With Teamwork" found at the Leader To Leader Institute Lencioni shares some valuable insights on how to decide if teamwork is right for your staff / group.

So how do well-intentioned leaders go about deciding if teamwork is right for their staffs? They can start by recognizing that organizational structure is not nearly as important as behavioral willingness.

Most theorists will call for teamwork in organizations that are structured functionally, but may not do so for those that are organized divisionally or geographically.

In other words, if the work can be organized in departments that operate largely independently (with regional territories, distinct product divisions, or separate subsidiaries), then the executives at the top can follow suit and function as what Jon Katzenbach, author of The Wisdom of Teams, describes as “working units.”These are groups made up of individuals who, though friendly and cooperative at times, are not expected to make willing sacrifices to one another to achieve common goals that lead to joint rewards.

However, when executives run an organization that is made up of departments that have structural interdependencies, teamwork is usually presented as the only possible approach for the leadership group. But although this is a sound and reasonable theory when all other factors are considered equal, it is not necessarily advisable in the messy and fallible world of real human beings. Before deciding that teamwork is the answer, ask these questions of yourself and your fellow team members.

  • Can we keep our egos in check?
  • Are we capable of admitting to mistakes,weaknesses, insuffi- cient knowledge? • Can we speak up openly when we disagree?
  • Will we confront behavioral problems directly?
  • Can we put the success of the team or organization over our own?

If the answer to one or more of these questions is “probably not,” then a group of executives should think twice about declaring themselves a team.Why? Because more than structure, it is the willingness of executives to change behavior —starting with the leader of the organization—that should determine whether teamwork is the right answer.


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