What is a team?


Why teaming?

What is a team?  A team is a collection of people who are committed to a common purpose, whose interdependence requires coordinated effort, and who hold themselves mutually accountable for results (Katzenbach & Smith, 2006).  Students are often asked to work in groups in their classes, situations in which they can divide and conquer, collecting individual work and turning it in together.  Increasingly, however, students are being placed into teams – beyond groups - where they must work together to create a shared result.

What is our opportunity?  While we increasingly ask employees and students to work in teams, we provide them with little guidance or support for making those teams successful.  In short, we don’t teach them teaming skills.  As a result, our distribution of team performance likely finds that our students are not prepared to leverage the diversity on their teams to achieve better, more innovative team outcomes.

Why does teaming matter? Solutions to today’s increasingly “wicked problems” demand teaming across disciplinary boundaries. Teaming in organizations is the “engine of organizational learning…a way of working that brings people together to generate new ideas, find answers and solve problems.  But people have to learn to team; it doesn’t come naturally” (Edmondson, 2012)

Good teaming skills allow teams to leverage diversity to better frame and solve problems, and ultimately to better innovate.  Diverse teams have been shown to either significantly under- or out-perform more homogeneous teams.  They underperform when they are either blind to the diversity present, or treat the diversity with stereotypes.  They outperform when they have a learning perspective that allows them to leverage the multiple bodies of knowledge that become available when they take this perspective.

Scott Page (2008) has shown mathematically that diversity trumps ability on teams, particularly when the teams are being asked to innovate or work on particularly complex problems. He measures diversity in simple terms along two dimensions: diversity in perspectives allows a team to collectively see the multiple facets of a problem with different points of view; diversity in heuristics provides a team with a variety of different ways of solving problems. Thus, teaming is integrally connected to the ability to frame and solve problems as teams, and ultimately to driving organizational learning and change.

Longitudinal studies of students who have taken classes in which they engage in team-based projects show that learning about teaming is high on their list of key takeaways both at the end of the semester as well as several years after graduation (Hey et al. 2007) ( Cobb et al. 2008).

Further Reading

Below is a list of some of our favorite teaming research and resources!

On Diversity

On Feedback and Communication

On Management

On Process

On Teams and Team Dynamics