When’s the last time you evaluated your work groups for team effectiveness? A recent survey found that 91 percent of high-level managers believe teams are the key to success. But the evidence doesn’t always support this assertion. Many teamwork-related problems remain hidden from view.

Teamwork demands shared responsibility, but it also demands individual contributions. It fails if team members shelter behind the consensus. ~ Robert Heller, Founding Editor, Management Today

In the work I do, I often hear assumptions about team effectiveness. Every team thinks it does its best work when the stakes are highest. On the contrary, pressures to perform drive people toward safe solutions that are justifiable, rather than innovative.

To raise my own awareness and those of my clients, I’ve been doing some reading about teams. Corporations increasingly organize work into teams, a practice that gained popularity in the ’90s. By 2000, roughly half of all U.S. organizations used teams; today, virtually all do.

Some teams work together from remote locations, relying on technical communication aids, such as web conferencing and email. Others demand a tremendous amount of face-to-face interaction, including team-building retreats, shared online calendars, meetings and physical work spaces that afford little privacy.

“Innovation—the heart of the knowledge economy—is fundamentally social,” writes prominent journalist Malcolm Gladwell.

Management expert Peter Drucker, who coined the term “knowledge worker,” points out that while people have always worked in tandem, “teams become the work unit rather than the individual himself” in knowledge work.

Working in teams has definite advantages:

  • Improved information-sharing
  • Better decisions, products and services
  • Higher employee motivation and engagement

There are, however, several barriers to achieving team effectiveness:

  • Some individuals are faster (or better) on key tasks.
  • Developing and maintaining teams can prove costly.
  • Some individuals do less work, relying on others to complete assigned tasks.
  • Teams tend to reach consensus – or groupthink.
  • Creativity can be discouraged in consensus-seeking groups.

Most corporate leaders nonetheless believe the benefits of teamwork far outweigh the costs. But do they? How much individual creative work isn’t being done because of the demands of group interaction and time-consuming meetings?

Think about it. I’d love to hear your opinion on this. You can reach me here or on LinkedIn. Let’s talk!