The evolution of effective team working and how you can accelerate it!

By observing newly formed and existing teams playing business simulations I have learned some important insights into how team-working 'evolves' and offer here some specific ideas on how you might accelerate this evolution in your own organizational teams.

On the road to Effective Team Collaboration there seems to be two intermediate phases of 'naïve collaboration' which many teams seem to go through - Hyper-Communication and Over-Delegation.


1 - Hyper-Communication

In this phase almost every team member is involved in almost every team conversation. It is very democratic and feels really good but the problem is that it just takes forever. A team operating like this will not hit its deadlines.

An organisational team meeting which conducts its operational meetings like this will not get through its agenda. In my experience teams usually start here on their journey towards effective collaboration. Teams in this phase genuinely believe that they are collaborating well UNTIL they suddenly discover that working like this is just not practical as it simply takes too long!

When teams have tried Hyper-Communication they often over-correct and move to the next phase of naive collaboration: Over-Delegation.

2 - Over-Delegation

In this phase the team quickly agree that they need to work faster and more efficiently. To achieve this they wisely decide that they need some roles and division of labour but they 'over-delegate'. By this I mean they give out jobs to the different members and sub-teams but do not support this with sufficient communications to ensure they all stay on the same page.

Like the first phase, Hyper-Communication, teams think they have fixed their collaboration and they feel they are being very efficient UNTIL they discover, typically near the end of the round, that they are no longer all on the same page and that the team members have been working to different assumptions and priorities which invalidates much of their good work.

3 - Effective Collaboration

Once teams have experienced both of these naïve forms of collaboration (Hyper-Communication and Over-Delegation) they are well placed to find a middle ground with represents Effective Collaboration. As with Over-Delegation they allocate roles but this time they also ensure that this is supported by on-going communications particularly around task objectives and early review of provisional findings/decisions before they become finalised.

Accelerating Team Development

From these experiences it is clear to me that it is very difficult for many teams to move directly into Effective Collaboration without first experiencing and learning from both Hyper-Communication and Over-Delegation.

In fact it may also be the case that many organisational teams simply flip-flop between these two naïve collaboration phases of Hyper-Communication and Over-Delegation without ever making the break-through into Effective Collaboration whilst all the time believing, they are already doing it!

Therefore, to fast track the effective team-working process you need 3 key ingredients:

1. Mechanisms such as competitive business simulation games or other short team challenges.
2. Briefing for the teams on the challenges with specific deadlines and goals but without any instruction about how they are to behave other than that they are a team.
3. Facilitated team self-analysis sessions at the end of each round or chunk of work to let teams review what kind of collaboration they are employing and how they might improve it.

If you put in place these 3 ingredients I firmly believe, based on what I have seen, that you can help teams in your organization develop team-working skills in a much faster timescale than would be possible using other methods.

I discuss how teams and individuals can achieve rapid experiential learning using business simulation games in my new book A Systematic Guide to Game-Based Learning (GBL) in Organizational Teams.

About Ken Thompson

Ken Thompson is an expert practitioner, author and speaker on collaboration/high performing teams and game-based learning.

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