It’s an important question. All teams are not made equal – and nor should they be.
What sort of team is yours?
Do they most resemble a shudder of circus clowns? A team of rugby players?
Perhaps they’re like cyclists riding in the team pursuit? Or does their behaviour more resemble a 10-pin bowling team?
Or worse…are they like circus clowns riding really fast bikes?
Once your team has developed a clear and shared understanding of the purpose that unites you, the next step is to develop the same kind of clarity around the type of team you are. The way you work. Your functional identity.
We like the use the word ‘Team’ in the work place. We tend to use it for any group of people that even come close to working together.
And there’s no problem with that. The word ‘team’ is healthy and positive.
But not all teams are the same. They don’t have the same purpose and therefore should not be structured in the same way. It’s essential that your team develop a strong sense of identity. The type of team you are impacts the way you communicate, set goals and rewards.
Within the broad spectrum of team types, there are two variable characteristics – skills variation and dependency – that help a team to understand the way they do or should work together.
The type of team you need to be depends entirely on your purpose …
…and the type of team you are determines the type of interactions that are required.
Q1 – Low Skill Variation and Low Dependency
The bottom left quadrant of the Team Functional Identity model. In these teams everyone has either exactly the same or very similar skills. They work independently of each other – i.e their work is not reliant on the performance of others.
Think of a bowling team of a golf team.
In US college golf each team has five players. Each player plays a round of golf as normal. At the end of the day’s play – whether that be 18 or 36 holes – they simply add up the score of the best four players on the team. And that is their team score. If at the end of the tournament their team score is lower than their opponents, they win.
Much like a 10-pin bowling team. Four players all play their own game. 10 frames. Then at the end they add up the score of the four players and compare it to their opponents. Team with the highest score wins.
In both these team sports the players have near identical skills and they are playing completely independently of each other – one player can not physically affect the performance of their team mates.
But does that mean they are less of a team?
Have you ever been part of a bowling team? Or watched college golf?
There is some serious team spirit there. High fives, hooting and hollering for each other. And even the occasional tear if things don’t go well.
While each player plays their own game separately, they are greatly affected by the camaraderie that exists within the group – positive or negative.
In this type of team it is the supporting environment that is created within the group that separates the good from the bad.
Part of that supportive environment comes from the fact that they all share the same skills. They can work together on those. Share best practice. Provide each other feedback on performance – in practise and competition.
There are lots of teams in the workplace that operate within this type of dynamic – accounts payable department, centralised HR, IT support, etc.
These teams may not be reliant on each other. But they share a work place environment and the collective responsibility of their department’s reputation across the organisation.
Because they execute largely on the same skills and knowledge, they are in a position to share technical know-how.
As a (large) bonus – they are also a team that can easily replace each other. If one is away from their desk or on holidays, the nature of this type of team is that they can slip effortlessly into each other’s role.
Q2 – High Skill Variation and Low Dependency
The top left quadrant of the Team Functional Identity model. In these teams each member has a different set of skills – they contribute something unique to the team. But the nature of their team purpose means that they are not dependent on each other to execute on their skills.
Think of a circus.
Lion tamer, juggler, trapeze artists, bearded lady, ring master…
They each bring something completely different to the circus performance.
So are they even a team?
They sure are. They have one clear purpose that units them all – to entertain the audience.
The fact that they all bring something so different to the performance means that in this type of team there is not the need for lots of team meetings.
The best thing the lion tamer can do to help the team performance is to be off practising his lion-taming act.
He doesn’t need to sit in endless meetings hearing the bearded lady talk about how severe her bed-head can be.
That would be a waste of the lion tamer’s time.
But that’s not to say that a team of circus performers don’t need to communicate at all.
The lion-tamer will need to understand how long the trapeze artists’ performance lasts – so he knows when he’s due on stage.
And as a group they need to understand the rise and fall of gate takings to give them an idea of how their performance is being received by the audience.
There are lots of teams in the workplace that operate within this type of dynamic – lawyers, accountants, teachers, etc – who have various specialties and all work within the same firm, department or school.
But because their individual performances are not dependent on each other, there are fewer communication requirements here than there are in Q3 and Q4.
But they are still part of a team. They each contribute to the behavioural culture and atmosphere within the workplace and they each make their contribution to the collective purpose.
Q3 – Low Skills Variation and High Dependency
The bottom right quadrant of the Team Functional Identity model. In these teams each member has comparative skills and are highly dependent on each other.
Think team pursuit track cycling.
Their skills and abilities are almost identical – which brings into the team all of the information and best practise sharing mentioned in Q1.
They fly around the velodrome at break-neck speeds almost touching each other’s wheel, performing precise manoeuvres to share the benefit of drafting.
They are highly dependent on each other. They need to be completely synchronised in their efforts or the entire thing will collapse…or crash.
This means that they must communicate with each other about their performance far more than any team in Q1 or Q2. There is less emphasis on individual performance, and more on team interaction.
Sure, there’s a huge responsibility on each individual to come the race physically prepared – fit, strong with a honed technique. But none of that will mean a thing if on the first lap they touch wheels and all come crashing down.
In a work place this may be a software design team. They all share the same language of programming. They are all working on the same project. As they each work on their separate parts of the piece of software, they must ensure that all the bits come together seamlessly to meet the performance specifications.
Q4 – High Skills Variation and High Dependency
The top right of the Team Functional Identity model.
This is the type of team most people mean when they think ‘team’.
They are entirely reliant on each other not just for the team’s outcome but also for their ability to contribute as individuals.
Think rugby team.
While all players share a core set of skills – catch, pass, run, tackle, kick – their position demands a different emphasis on those skills.
Wingers need to be fast, able to kick and tackle one-on-one.
Props need to be big and powerful, have tremendous technical ability in scrums. They need to tackle big opponents in tight to the ruck where there are lots of bodies around them.
Fly halves control the direction of the entire team. They need to be able to pass precisely in either direction, spot opportunities and control the pace and location of the match with their kicking game.
…and right through the positions we see specialised requirements.
Not only do members of a rugby team bring their own set of skills, they are completely reliant on each other to execute on those skills.
A scrum half can’t pass off the lineout if the second rower doesn’t win the ball.
A hooker can’t strike at the ball in the scrum if the props are not holding up their end or if the scrumhalf doesn’t feed it correctly.
The outside centre can’t hit a hole if the fly-half doesn’t deliver a precise pass.
The interdependencies exist right across the team.
And just like the three other team types, the characteristics of Q4 bring with it specific team demands.
Members of teams in this quadrant have a responsibility to personal mastery. They bring to the team a unique set of skills that their team-mates rely on to do their own job.
Each member of this team also has significant responsibilities in developing relationships with their team-mates so they are able to combine their performance with that of others in the manner their team purpose requires.
The most obvious examples of Q4 teams in organisations are executive and senior leadership teams.
Each member comes to the team with a responsibility for a different part of the organisation – HR, IT, operations, health and safety, etc.
One of the greatest mistakes I see teams make at this level is treating their team meetings as advocacy sessions for each department. Some teams literally go around the room, hearing from each member about what their department is up to – and then think they’re a team for doing it.
But in this team their primary job is not to represent their department at the senior level. Their job is to be part of the senior team and work out how their specialised skills can contribute to the collective outcome.
They should not be circus performers reporting on their individual act. They should be rugby players discussing how the team can best utilise their various skills and talents.
You wouldn’t send circus clowns to play a game of rugby.
And you certainly wouldn’t send a group of cyclists to perform on the trapeze.
By understanding the type of team you really are, you can determine the optimum team dynamics that are required to fulfil your purpose – your communication requirements, goal setting and reward systems are completely dependent on your team functional identity.
Teams that fall within Q1 and Q2 have a greater emphasis on individual performance. Here, it’s best to give individuals the space and time they need to develop their own skills and knowledge. That’s the way they can maximise their contribution to the team. They will in turn feel good about their contribution and contribute positively to the atmosphere of the work place.
Because of the low levels of interdependency, these types of teams don’t need to spend as much time in meetings, discussing the work they are doing. Their time is best spent actually performing the work.
Goals and rewards within these teams should be based on individual performance.
Individual performance first, team second.
Teams that fall within Q2 and Q3 have a greater emphasis on working together. The interdependent nature of the work means they will have to spend more time working and communicating with each other – to ensure the points at which their work is mutually reliant is smooth, efficient and optimal.
Goals and rewards in these team types should be based on collective performance.
Team first, individual second.
Less Circus, More Rugby
One of the most common maladies I hear among teams is that of ‘silo behaviour.’
Silo behaviour is fine when an individual, team or department does not rely on interactions with others to execute. But that’s rarely the case.
When a team is operating like a circus when they should be operating more like a rugby team – that’s silo behaviour and you’ve got a problem.
We can eliminate silo behaviour by exploring the type of team we are, compared with the type of team we need to be. We can assess the way we communicate, set goals and issue rewards to ensure they meet the requirements of our true team identity.