One of the best books written on teams and teamwork is The Wisdom of Teams by Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith. They make the distinction between a “team” and what they call a “working group.”
The latter is the most common form in workplaces today:
- a VP with a group of managers, each in charge of a functional area of the department
- an accounting manager with a group of employees spread over the various jobs within the department.
In most cases, all you need is a working group. These are absolutely appropriate where the work products of the group members areprimarily individual, where the group’s overall output is essentially the sum of the individual inputs, and where rewards are based on individual, rather than group, performance.
To turn a “working group” into a “team” (and especially the “high performing” variety) requires a significant investment of team time to develop its processes, identify and commit to genuinely shared goals, build major levels of trust, openness and mutual accountability, and learn–often painfully–how to share direct, pointed and sensitive feedback within the group.
You would choose to make such an investment only if what you expect from the group is a collective performance output, where the very nature of the work requires members to collaborate, and where individual actions and decisions are will positively or negatively affect overall performance. Many complex project teams fall into this category.
Now, I’m a big fan of team building retreats and the like. I facilitate them as part of my professional work. And make no mistake about it, where appropriate, creating a true team will payoff big in performance results. But too often we try to push groups to become teams when they don’t need to be. So, before you rush off and do team building with your group, clarify why you are doing this and what outcomes you want to achieve. Talk it over with the facilitator. Don’t pay for more than you need.