Team Capability: Do You Have It?

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Artwork by Author, inspired by Zheng Ziaohe’s Team Work

People think about organizations the way they think about buildings and machines. They make drawings that show how people are supposed to relate to one another on the job. These charts often use boxes stacked in the shape of a pyramid. They tell everyone in the company who is in charge and who answers to whom. But, in today’s world of instant communication and customer-designed products, we need ways to create organizations that are more like living organisms. Teams are one of those ways.

Organizations are not rigid structures–like buildings or Lego blocks. They are people who get together to accomplish something. Like the body, organizations have many parts and each part adds to the life of the whole. Teams help an organization function more like a living thing that grows and adapts.

A team is not just a group of people who are in the same space. While waiting for your flight at the airport, you are part of a group but you’re not a team. The members of a team share the same goals and work together to achieve those goals.

The members of a team work together to produce a result that is greater than the effects of the individuals. Such a team doesn’t need the constant input of outside guidance. It can take care of itself, improve itself, and learn how to produce more and better outcomes.

For this to happen, the organization has to develop Team Capability. Three conditions comprise this capability: a team atmosphere, team attitudes, and team alignment.

Team atmosphere is about organizational features like structures, policies, processes, and reward systems. When these are team-friendly, the organization has a team atmosphere. For example, to be successful, teams need space where they can operate without direct control from authorities outside the team. At a practical level, this means they are rewarded, not only as individuals, but also as a team. They are also allowed to spend money and make decisions within certain guidelines that everyone has agreed to follow. This team atmosphere is ruined when a manager or boss constantly changes the team’s decisions or second-guesses its work.

Team attitude exists when those who make up the team are willing to work together. The members of great teams defer their personal agendas to the good of the team. It means valuing the unique contributions of other members of the team and this requires emotional fitness. Stubborn, self-willed, egotistical people can weaken a team or even cause it to self-destruct. On the other hand, teams thrive when they have people who are open to new experiences, live authentically, and want to serve others. These attitudes build a shared commitment to the goal, which leads to the ability to produce more and better outcomes.

Team alignment happens when people join their talents to solve problems and create solutions. It also happens when the team connects with other teams and other departments to help achieve organizational goals. Great teams consist of individuals who bring unique strengths to form a robust team. Team members are able to align their unique–and possibly conflicting–individual talents to create innovative solutions that serve the customer.

Use these three variables to check your organization’s team capability. If teams are new to your organization, work on improving these factors before setting up your first team. Once teams are working, find ways to measure team atmosphere, team attitude, and team alignment so you can improve your overall team capability.

What do you think? Do these three factors make sense in your experience? I would love to get your feedback.

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