On Teaming

On the surface, the standard approach to solving problems and driving continuous improvement seems straightforward: assemble teams, train them in problem solving, assign them problems, and wait for the results. The flaw in this approach, however, is that many firms are ill-prepared to handle team structures and dynamics.

Effective teams are not easy to create. In firms where there is no prior experience with teams, making the leap from no teams to teams is often too big a leap. In such firms, collaboration and coordinated effort are not the norm, and shifting to team-based structures is likely to flounder and perhaps fail.

In such cases, we have found an emergent approach to teaming to be much more effective. At Anderson Lyall, we call it our “emergent approach”, because rather than trying to impose or create team-based structures, we gradually allow teams to emerge out of incremental collaborations between small units of employees.

Under our emergent approach, we will focus on a specific process and try to establish an ethic of basic cooperation and collaboration between, say, two members of the process work group. Why two employees? Because two people is smallest relational unit of shared cooperation and collaboration that is possible. This “micro team” might be asked to investigate and resolve a simple challenge or issue within the process. The focus is not so much on solving the issue or problem, although that is important, but more on getting two people used to interacting with each other and putting their minds to work cooperatively and collaboratively.

From this initial nucleation of establishing a collaborative relationship among two members of the work group, we will then orchestrate similar interactions among other members, gradually expanding the numbers and scope of each interaction over time. Coaching is given along the way to identify impediments to cooperation and the building of productive, collaborative relationships. The emphasis is always on the quality of the interaction and the collaborative relationship, and not on the outcome or result.

Over time, this approach can allow a cooperative, collaborative, and effective team to gradually emerge out of a work group. An additional benefit of the approach is that employees who show a natural bent for guiding and leading collaborations can be identified – these employees may become the eventual team leaders.

Creating effective teams is neither easy nor quick. The emergent approach may be useful to those firms which have a low ethic of collaboration, or those whose team-building efforts have stalled or failed.

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