Teams – magical or insufferable?

I have a wonderful book called “Why teams don’t work” by Harvey Robbins and Michael Finley. I have an older version – and this is one of those books which annoyingly keeps changing its cover.  You may have bought it twice…which I am sure lots of us have done over the years with many books.

Anyway, back in 1995 this was the Financial Times / Booz Allen and Hamilton Global Business Book of the year.  (As a minor aside, I am so excited that an international management consultancy has Booz as one of its original members.  I am sure it helps the creativity!)

The preface sets the main premise; “…people don’t necessarily like being on teams”.  There are 5 sections

  1.  Broken dreams, broken teams
  2. Why teams come apart
  3. What keeps teams from working
  4. Team myths
  5. Turning teams around

It even stays down beat on teams in the epilogue:

“Teams are trouble because they are made of people and people are trouble”

OK.  The whole thrust of the book is to get away from” Happy Clappy”, team is the answer to every organisational ill sort of positivity without substance.  But they do look at every downfall and negative aspect of ‘team’ .  To that end, it is relentlessly negative in the stories and experiences.  I have always worked on that principle anyway – you do need to locate the abscess before you can start the treatment.  Get all the negative out on the table, examine it, and agree the way forward to putting it right. So the negative stories do feed ideas of what to do about them.

I have always been interested in this aspect of people working together.  Or not.  I have surveyed groups and asked how often had they been in a really high performing team – a Rolls-Royce of a team, where everyone’s input was equally valued, people were queuing up to get into the team, and even your competition knew of and talked about that team.

Most people said it had never happened.  Some said once in their working lives.  One person, twice.

The book did have an optimistic last paragraph:

“But when people take their time to learn about one another, what is in their hearts as well as their minds, we rise to a higher level.  Call it love, call it camaraderie, call it team spirit, or don’t call it anything at all.  But somehow or other, you have to get there.  It is the glory of working together, and getting things right.”

That made up for my feelings of “why do I bother?” half way through!

We will return to some of the themes, and potential solutions, tips and ideas.


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