Four deadly myths about teams

There are four myths about teams which are particularly deadly because each of them is nearly true. Myth1: Talent is the most important thing in any team. Myth2: The team’s goals won't suddenly change without anyone realising it. Myth3: 'Collaboration' means basically the same thing to all team members. Myth4: You should always play 'win-win'


Myth 1: Talent is the most important thing in any team

It's the team that matters. Where would The Beatles be without Ringo? If John got Yoko to play drums the history of music would be completely different.

FALSE: Counter Example - Hearers but not doers

I once worked with an exceptionally talented senior team which in the end of the day talked lots but produced little in the form of concrete outputs.

This is because they were a 'recommending team' but lacked a dedicated resource to write up the detailed recommendations.

The team were geared up to review but nobody was prepared to put the work in to produce documents for reviewing.

There are 3 Types of Team – recommending, doing and managing according to The Discipline of Teams.

A team needs TALENT + ROLES + TIME if it is to deliver.

Myth2: The team’s goals won't suddenly change without anyone realising it

If your boss is getting you down, look at him through the prongs of a fork and imagine him in jail.

FALSE: Counter Example - ‘Crossing the Rubicon’ in Projects

A team crosses the Rubicon when the members decide that its too risky to keep playing for team success and silently decide it makes more sense to avoid individual failure.

So instead of looking out for each other they all start looking over their shoulders and covering their backs.

At this point the team is like a plane flying at night in cloud without any radar - the early warning system is gone.

I have experienced this phenomenon in lots of software projects - it usually happens in the last quarter of the project.

A trigger event is often a team member being disproportionately blamed for a problem.

The rest of the team make a resolution - I am not going to be the next person that happens to.

To hell with teamwork - its heads down and make sure you do your own job well - even if nobody else does theirs!

For further reading on this phenomenon see:

Bioteams Rule 2: Team Intelligence

Towards and Away in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP)

Myth3: 'Collaboration' means basically the same thing to all team members

There may be no 'I' in team, but there's a 'ME' if you look hard enough

FALSE: Counter Example - Heath Clubs & Sports Clubs.

You could say a health club is a collaboration between the members. However in reality it is a very limited form of collaboration - taking turns at using equipment.

There is not much eye contact between treadmill users!

You don't actually need the other people to do what you want to do.

A team sports club is also a collaboration but of a different kind.

You actually do need the other people to do what you want to do.

You would never turn up for a soccer match without checking you were part of a team.

So when people say lets collaborate you had better check what they mean and which degree of collaboration they are up for.

And most times we should be content with the ‘lower levels’ of collaboration - you cannott force people to collaborate at a higher level than they want to without massive effort.

For a practical model of the different levels of collaboration see A Virtual Community Development Model

Myth4: You should always play 'win-win'

You have to be 100% behind someone, before you can stab them in the back

FALSE: Counter Example - Transforming 'Win-Lose' team members

If you play 'win-win' with another party who is used to playing 'win-lose' they will walk all over you.

You have to first show them you are not a push-over and then they will respect you enough to play 'win-win'.

Tit for Tat (TFT) is the key technique, based on biology and evolution, for creating 'win-win' situations with all types of players.

Win-Win is an outcome, but TFT is the strategy for achieving it

For more on Tit for Tat see Dysfunctional teams: bioteam them

*All Quotes are from David Brent of The Office

About the author

Ken Thompson was formerly the European IT Manager with Reuters in London and Managing Director with VISION Consulting in Belfast. At VISION, Ken spent over 10 years successfully delivering services to clients in the Financial Services, Government and the Small Business Sectors. Recognized as a leading expert in the growing area of Virtual Enterprise Networks, Ken also helps distributed business teams in medium and large-sized organizations become successful through a unique approach to team design and working practices. Ken is the founder of – a research blog dedicated to how organizational teams can learn from nature’s best teams.

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