Firefighting team

What makes a team a team?

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There are many ways of defining a team.  One widely accepted definition is Kozlowski and Ilgen’s (2006) comprehensive characterization of teams.

“Teams are (a) two or more individuals who (b) socially interact (face-to-face or increasingly, virtually); (c) possess one or more common goals; (d) are brought together to perform organizationally relevant tasks; (e) exhibit interdependence with respect to workflow, goals, and outcomes; (f) have different roles and responsibilities; and (g) are together embedded in an encompassing organizational system, with boundaries and linkages to the broader system context and task environment.”

A simplified definition is: A team is a group of people who collaborate on related tasks toward a common goal.

It is important to have a working definition of team in your organization and in your teams so that confusion between a departmental group or committee meeting does not hold the same “team” meaning, expectations and commitment.

Creating high-functioning teams takes work, time and effort, commitment, social capital and purpose.  This can be an arduous process but done right it can also be freeing.  Teams are a cornerstone to human dynamics, when they are too big, they are unwieldly and can lose track of the tasks, people and purpose that hold the team together. When they are too small they can lack imagination and capacity to be effective.  Working in isolation one high-functioning team can achieve a lot, but when organized into a structure of self sufficient units, with a shared purpose, skills and governance to get things done, the organizational potential to achieve results and transform is immense.

What is needed to take your team to the next level? I don’t believe they should be bound by business-as-usual scenario. We need to challenge them to do more.  Here are three conditions that ought to be in place in order to unleash the potential of teams.

  1. A challenge:  When people face a challenge that they resonate with the solutions and the way forward to those solutions become exciting. A challenge helps individuals and teams dive deeper into something more purposeful, and can satisfy the desire for connection, meaning and fulfillment.
  2. People with passion perform: The energy in people who are trying to tackle wicked problems is powerful and creates a commitment to the work which cannot be replaced by expertise or experience. Less time and thought are spent on rewards, and people become absorbed in the challenge and focused on delivering results.
  3. Space to excel: People need space to create, innovate, design, and build and they need to be able to make mistakes, learn and start again. As individuals and teams, we need to embrace failure and connect to the learning opportunity of that same failure. Any Agile professional will tell you, it is important to learn to fail fast so that you can adapt, move forward quickly and deliver value. A team that can balance experimentation with the need to make progress and deliver results will ignite the power and passion of its membership.

If you are a leader and you are thinking about your next objective, goal or initiative.  Take a good hard look before you decide to hand it to a team. Decide if it’s a team-worthy challenge, if you have the right people on the team and if are you willing to make the space so they can have an impact.

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Eric Lott

Eric is ISN's CEO, team coordinator, and a key contributor to the ISN Transformation Methodology, Action Pathways and Integral Outcomes. His foundation as a coordinator, collaborator, strategist, tactician, designer and learner allows him to drop into situations and establish footing in which to affect systemic change.

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