Team Definition

A team is a small number of people with complimentary skills who are committed to an agreed purpose, goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.

Small: There does appear to be an optimum number of 8-10 for a team to work effectively. Larger teams tend to be slightly more unwieldy and less focused, simply due to size. This often makes it harder for them to work as a homogeneous unit and so they break into sub-groups or ‘committees.’

Too large a group can also increase the tendency for disagreement within the team, and allow the team to get hung up on less important issues.

Complimentary skills: The work of R Meredith Belbin and Frederick Mumma both indicated a strong need for a range of complimentary skills to create a balance within team. The early work of Belbin, in particular, emphasised this need for balance and demonstrated that ‘pure teams,’ or even ‘Apollo’ teams, (those made up of the brightest and more confident characters), functioned far less well than those which had a variety of complimentary skills and attributes.

For example, every team needs someone to take notes.

Mumma went further than simply team role, emphasising that there are also phases of team development and that the characteristics which make up each of the eight team roles will be best suited to a particular phase. (For example a Completer-Finisher may struggle in the ideation phase, whilst a Shaper may be a negative influence in the production phase).

Mumma also noted the fact that there will be teams which serve particular functions and the nature and make-up of these teams will be very different. Members of any team, however, will also need some level of relationship skills as they need to interact together and to make joint decisions.

Committed to an agreed purpose and goals: Working together as a team, can help develop direction, momentum and commitment by shaping a meaningful purpose, (ie why are we meeting, what are we trying to achieve?) This purpose will break down into short-term goals and milestones, but these should relate to the overall purpose, otherwise team morale and momentum can diminish.

One of the major issues in longer-term team performance is keeping the team on track and maintaining urgency and morale.

Focusing on their objectives, as opposed to issues like personal chemistry/togetherness/good communications/good feelings etc, can help achieve the shape of a team more quickly and effectively.

Teams within goal-focused Organisations, tend to perform better as the culture is already accepted as performance-oriented.

Approach: This is where the team decides who will do what, how the team work together, the constraints, schedules, deadlines, milestones, reporting structures, language, etc, helping to foster a common approach.

Each team thus develops its own method of energising and supporting one another. This takes time and is an evolutionary process, and is one reason why teams which are created artificially, made of all the right Belbin/Mumma ingredients, often don’t achieve the expected results.

For all the functional and team role issues, real team bonding generally takes place through activity, and this, in the early stages, is often through ‘who does what’ issues. This phase can also help establish the small wins which help keep morale high and show others that the team is achieving.

Mutually accountable: This is about honesty, integrity, commitment to one another, trust and relationship. Most of us enter a team situation cautiously, ingrained with our own individuality and, if we are honest, determined to look our best and unlikely to really trust the others.

However, if a team is to function well it must behave like a team, which means leaning on each other and holding each team member accountable for their actions to the team as a whole.

Reproduced from 'Wisdom of Teams - Creating the High Performance Organisation' by Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K Smith, published by McGraw-Hill Professional (1 Sep 2005)