Soccer at sunset

Two very thought-provoking books give us insight on how to make teams more effective, when teams might serve to help us, and when teams might actually hinder progress.

Teams are a popular concept in today’s business world, yet many employees and students state that teams often don’t work very well. In a world that feels rushed, we feel that there isn’t enough time for working in teams. Many self-reliant individuals would most often prefer not to work in teams.

Patrick Lencioni’s very short, excellent book, titled The Five Dysfunctions of Teams, explores those factors that keep teams from achieving excellence. It is an easy read, because the reader discovers the principles that Lencioni wishes to share through his telling of a story. He brings us into the world of a leader who has inherited a dysfunctional team and describes her journey toward helping that team become functional. He shows us how easy it is for a team to become dysfunctional and offers principles that can overcome those dysfunctions.

Susan Cain’s wonderful book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, focuses on helping introverts find their way in the work environment and helps everyone appreciate the introverts that they have within their organizations. In the process, Cain also helps readers see that teams might not always be the answer.

So is the current emphasis on working in teams essential, or is it a bad idea? Neither assertion is true.

We live in an environment in which every issue is a fire

Some positives regarding teams are the benefit of broader thinking, more ideas, and the vetting of those ideas through critique and open discussion. Lencioni promotes using teams, saying that “teamwork remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.” Author and speaker John Maxwell points out that “teams provide more ideas, more energy and more resources.” He sees teams as a way to “maximize each other’s strengths and minimize each other’s weaknesses.” In any situation where a concept must have a buy-in to be accepted and implemented within an organization, allowing ideas to be generated in a team environment is clearly a must.

silhouette person

Nevertheless, there are times when teams don’t work well, are inefficient, and can actually stymie creativity. Cain uses Steve Wozniak of Apple fame as an example of allowing an individual to develop creative solutions by himself without being hampered by the concerns—and often, the risk-averse nature—of a team. The creative ideas can still be handed off to a team once they are developed. Many action-based individuals do well to have time to work outside of teams.

Whether working in teams or individually, a big key to achieving creative solutions and true critical thinking requires that we allow time away from the rush of everyday work. If you choose to use teams, members must allow each other to share ideas and then respectfully critique those ideas. On the other hand, if you choose or feel that you produce your best work alone, be confident with your decision. We live in an environment in which every issue is a fire to be put out, to the extent that creativity and critical thinking in order to solve these problems is becoming virtually nonexistent because of time restraints.

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