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The Wisdom of Teams: Outperforming Individuals

The Wisdom of Teams

The Wisdom of TeamsThe Wisdom of Teams is a true classic among Twentieth Century business books. Based on detailed interviews with 47 teams across the US, it uncovers the wisdom of what teams can achieve, and how they can perform at their best.

The authors of The Wisdom of Teams acknowledge that what they discovered is both obvious, in that we recognise the truths straight away, and subtle, in that making sense of them in the real world can be hard. They rank their findings as both common sense and uncommon sense. And all this is as it should be. Teams are people. And people working together can be messy and hard to characterise.

So, while the book has been criticised for its obviousness, and also for being too long and sharing too many long stories, this is its nature. Real team stories show not just the obvious truths, but the subtle complexities too. Perhaps the biggest idea of the Wisdom of Teams is that there is no one Big Idea, but many smaller big ideas.

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Team Building

Team Building

Team BuildingTeams are a good thing. No one doubts that. So, how can we doubt the benefit of team building?

Team building has become a multi-million Pound/Dollar/Euro… industry. Search for it online, and you’ll find dozens of service providers offering everything from cake decoration to high risk expeditions. But:

  • what is it?
  • why should you use it? and
  • what should you know about doing it well?

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Bruce Tuckman: Group Development

Bruce Tuckman developed a model of group development which is among the most viewed management models on The Management Pocketblog. We cannot wait any longer: we must take a look at his life and work with a wider perspective.

Bruce Tuckman

 

Brief Biography

Bruce Tuckman was born and grew up in New York, gaining his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the Renesselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1960, and his MA and PhD from Princeton, in 1962 and 1963 respectively.

From Princeton, he joined the Naval Medical Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, as a research psychologist. Here, he joined a group of researchers that was researching the the behaviours of small groups, thinking about getting the best team working on small crewed naval vessels. His supervisor gave him a stack of fifty research papers, telling him to see what he could make of them. His analysis resulted in the developmental sequence that was to make him famous:

  1. Forming – orientation, relationship building
  2. Storming – conflict
  3. Norming – developing cohesion and behavioural norms
  4. Performing – team inter-dependence and collaboration

Tuckman subsequently acknowledged that it was the choice of rhyming names for the stages that he used in his published paper (1965) ‘which probably account for the paper’s popularity’. The terms are certainly memorable and evocative.

From 1965, when he moved to his first academic post, at Rutgers, Tuckman started to focus on Educational Pyschology. In 1978, he moved to City University of New York and then to Florida State University in 1983. In 1998, he moved to Ohio State University, as Professor of Educational Psychology, where he remained until his retirement.

Developmental Sequence in Small Groups

The group development model for which Tuckman is best-known has been well covered in the Mangement Pocketblog already; so much so that we took the unusual step of creating a portal blog to guide readers to the various articles, at: Bruce Tuckman’s Group Development Model. You can also read Tuckman’s original paper, Developmental Sequence in Small Groups.

In 1977, Tuckman was invited to review his original work and, with Mary Ann Jensen (at the time a Doctoral student at Rutgers, with Tuckman, and now a psychologist in private practice in Princeton, New Jersey), produced a review paper (Stages of Small-Group Development Revisited) that validated the original work, and added a fifth stage, Adjourning, ‘for which a perfect rhyme could not be found’ said Tuckman. Many practitioners (this author included) prefer to use the term ‘mourning’ – not because it rhymes, but because it reminds us of the emotional impact of separation and therefore of the role of the team leader in ensuring the team acknowledges the loss.

Procrastination

Tuckman’s work on procrastination looks excellent. I was going to look it up but…

As an educational psychologist, most of Tuckman’s work is of limited interest to a management audience. But one topic stood out for me: the bane of many managers’ lives… procrastination. We all do it.

In 1991, while Professor of Educational Psychology at Florida State Univesity, Tuckman published a self evaluation tool to measure tendency to procrastinate. This was a core part of his research into students’ self-motivation in studying. This became a a key plank in much later research which he applied very directly at Ohio State University, where he founded the University’s Dennis Learning Center. They still teach workshops and courses based on Tuckman’s research. All the research related to the learning centre listed on its website is Tuckman’s.

Here’s the research paper that caught my eye: at the American Psychological Association meeting in 2002, Tuckman presented a paper that showed how procrastinators get significantly poorer grades in class. What I wonder is this: is it reasonable to generalise that result to the workplace? I suspect it is.

The message would be clear: ‘just get on with it!’

 


 

For more on Tuckman’s model of group development…

… and for more on teams in general:

 

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Team Building

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Team building is one of those things that many managers – and professional trainers – get badly wrong. I think that part of the reason for this is that there is no simple underlying model that helps people to understand what it is, what they need to to achieve and therefore how to select and combine team-building activities effectively.

So here is a model to fill that void, in the sure and safe knowledge that there will always be a vast number of team building activities that you can access on the web, simply by searching on:

‘team building activities/exercises/games.’

A Model for Team Building

Creating a model needs a strong definition as a starting point and I will start with my own definition of a team.

‘A team is a small number of people who collaborate to achieve a shared goal.’

You will see that I have highlighted five of the words in the definition, which help us understand what team building is and is not. By looking at each of these words in turn, we can get some valuable insights.

Small

A team is a small group of people. This is not the place to get into the definition of ‘small’ and how different sizes of team operate. For our purposes, it tells us that there has to be some selection that stops the team from becoming too big and ceasing to function properly as a team. The selection takes place before the team comes together, or sometimes is a culling process to remove unwanted members from the team to improve its performance.

While this may well be a trigger for needing team building, it is not, itself, a team building process. All of the other four highlighted words lead to team building interventions.

Team Building Model

Goal

A team needs a goal to work towards and some team building activities are focused on creating one, interpreting what is already there, or articulating the goal in compelling and powerful manner. These sort of team building activities are about more than just rallying around a banner – they give team members a sense of purpose, because a good goal answers their need for meaning in their work, by answering the question:

‘why are we here, doing what we are being tasked to do?’

People

Meaningless team cliché number one: ‘There is no I in team’. A team that is not made up of individuals, each with their own passions, experiences, skills and perspectives has no power to it. So some team building activities are designed to emphasise these differences and make team members aware of the resources that their fellows bring.

The sort of activities that we find are discovery, exploration, sharing and respect activities, which answer the question:

‘who am I working with and what can they contribute?’

Shared

Working together, towards a shared goal requires an infrastructure, norms of behaviour, procedures, organisation and motivating culture. Consequently we sometimes need team building activities that will help create these from scratch, modify what we have, if it is not working, or embed what is working to make it more efficient.

These sort of activities answer the question:

‘how will we work together in an effective manner?’

Collaboration

By far the most activities that you will find are focused around our fourth priority; collaboration. These activities work on team necessities like communication, trust, relationship building, problem solving, negotiation, decision-making and conflict resolution. many exercises that you will find deal with these and, helping to build the capability to get on well with one another. Trainers and facilitators love these sorts of exercise and know them well, so avoid the trap of getting drawn into doing one of these when the collaboration dimension is not your top team building priority.

Three top tips

  1. Make sure, before you start planning any team-building activities or events, you know what your reasons are and what objectives you have in setting out. Set yourself a success criterion that answers the question: ‘how will you know if the event or activity has worked?’ Use this as the basis for selecting, designing and planning your event. Ideally build yourself a business case to demonstrate that your plans are worth the costs.
  2. Ensure that your activities have a real link to what your team does and needs to do. Team members will quickly become de-motivated if they fail to spot a good answer to the question: ‘why are we being asked to do this?’
  3. Make sure that whatever you plan is fully inclusive and that every member of your team will be able to participate with minimum barriers – physical and mental. Any barriers there are will create tensions an divisions in your team, undermining your objectives.

Further Reading 

  1. The Teambuilding Activities Pocketbook
  2. The Teamworking Pocketbook
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