Buzzwords don’t have to be long to be grating.
Take, for example, the word “team,” which I freely confess appears quite often in this space.
Only my use of “team” doesn’t grate at all, because (1) I rarely couple its use with even-more-grating sports metaphors, and (2) I’m (usually) careful to limit its usage to denoting collections of people who are working toward the same goal, and who trust each other to be working toward the same goal.
Use #2 comes from an old but very useful model developed by a researcher with the unfortunate name of Bruce Wayne Tuchman, unfortunate because, in addition to being named after Batman’s alter ego he also shares a middle name with a disproportionate number of murderers, not that he was ever suspected of such villainy; not that any of this has much to do with the point of what follows; also, if your middle name also happens to be “Wayne” I hope you haven’t taken offense; and if your middle name happens to be “Wayne” and you have taken offense I sincerely hope you have no murderous tendencies.
Where was I? Oh, yes, “team” and its misuse.
Regular readers, and even more so those who have read Leading IT: <Still> the Toughest Job in the World will recall that one of the eight tasks of leadership is managing team dynamics. Even the less-enlightened usually understand teamwork matters, and so use “team” where “group,” “bunch,” or “committee” might be more accurate.
For that matter, propagandists sometimes disparage team-ish collections of people who are aligned to a shared purpose the propagandist disagrees with by using terms like “crowd,” “gang,” or “mob” to deride them.
So if you ever read something about the “KJR crowd” to refer to those who don’t accept the notion of internal customers, you’ll know what’s going on. I haven’t, but I’d like to. Persecution is good publicity, after all.
Huh. I keep sliding away from the point. Let’s get back to it.
To be more exact than I usually am, all teams are groups, not all groups are teams. It’s a square/rectangle kind of thing.
What distinguishes teams from other groups is that they’re populated with people who both trust each other and are all trying to accomplish much the same thing.
Like, for example, the exact opposite of our current Congress … a point I make not to lose subscribers who are tired of my alleged political commentary but to illustrate with a well-known example. Once upon a time, most members of Congress really did share the common purpose of wanting to improve this country and really did trust each other to have this shared purpose, no matter how much they disagreed about how to improve things.
It’s an important distinction for all teams, whose members aren’t expected to agree with each other about everything, but whose members are expected to reach compromises they can all agree to.
While we’re at it, let’s look at other sorts of group that are common in business situations to see how and whether they should differ from teams.
Start with committees. As with teams, members of effective committees trust each other. Unlike teams, they generally lack a shared sense of purpose: Members of committees are there to represent their own team’s interests. See “Congress,” above, only with trust restored.
Then there are departments … under the best of circumstances, teams of teams. It’s an interesting dynamic. In a department, all members of all teams should share the department’s purpose — its charter and goals.
But individual members of one team need not trust individual members of other teams, not that this would be a problem if they did. But they do need to trust the other teams that make up the department taken as a whole.
Similar logic applies as you move up the organization, from departments to divisions, divisions to business units and so on.
So when an executive refers to the enterprise and everyone in it as a team, there are three possibilities.
One is that everyone does trust the parts of the organization they aren’t personally members of. The second is that the executive would like it if they did.
The third? A sports metaphor is in your future.