English: 2009 Aces Team Picture (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Somewhere along the evolution of corporate culture, it became the style to refer to any group of people who performed a similar function as a “team.” The sales team. The marketing team. The database team. The SEAL team.
As long as your definition of team is, “Group of people with similar skill sets working for the same organization,” then the designation is perfectly legit. That is mostly an accurate description of most teams, with the exception of Bob in Accounting who is actually running a side business out of his cubicle. Seriously, you should check on that guy. I’ll wait.
Now that you’ve reported Bob for malfeasance, I’d like to propose that most “teams” aren’t really teams at all in the sense of “a group of people working together in a common effort toward a common goal.” That’s an entirely different level of team, and based on my observations and interactions with several organizations, I can say with confidence that you could put most “team” members in a metal box with a tube for air and your “team” would function in roughly the same way. I tried to observe some sort of common denominator I could use to decide if a team were actually a team or just a collection of individuals that shared a job description. Here’s the distillation of what I noticed:
If you were to tell everyone on the team what you did yesterday and what you plan to do today, would that have any direct impact or ramifications for anyone else on your team? Would that information be useful to anyone on your team besides the manager?
If the answer is “not really,” then you’re not really a team. If the answer is, “Well, at a very high, abstract level,” then you’re only a team at a very high, abstract level.
If you are united in a common task around a common goal, then what you are doing today should have an impact on others in your team and perhaps everyone on the team. If that’s not the case, then you’re just a group of individuals with the same skill set, but for all practical purposes, you’re in individual silos and not really a team at all. Each individual has their own individual work. Lots of things are in progress, but few things are getting done quickly, and the odds are good that if one of the team members goes away, a lot of knowledge goes with them.
Another twist that comes from this question is that you might discover that no one on your team is impacted by your daily activity, but someone in another group is. “Since I got this done, today, then Cathy will need to do her part.” Congratulations! You’re discovering who your real team is.
In agile methodologies, we call this the cross-functional team. In other words, we recognize that, regardless of what the org chart says, the actual team that gets work done together is often composed of individuals from different groups. In that collection of people, one person’s work and rate of progress impacts the work everyone else is doing and has an impact on the overall item the group is trying to deliver.
If this is the case, you might consider forming actual teams rather than groups that simply call themselves a team.