When Is Teamwork Really Important?

For several decades now, the importance of teamwork has been unquestioned in American business. Teams by definition improve communication and cooperation, goes the thinking. They maximize productivity and foster both innovation and creativity.

That may be true. But a recent Harvard Business Review points out that rather than viewing teams as a universal good for all businesses and all situations, it may be more effective to explore when a team is useful and when it isn’t.

Individuals, or Teams?

Take a group of high-performing salespeople, for example. They set goals and objectives with their manager. They go into the field to achieve those goals and objectives, with the support of their office behind them. As a result, a group comprised of salespeople may not equate to a team. It may have no need to be a team because the important nodes salespeople work with are their managers and their clients, not other salespeople.

That’s quite a different model from a group of corporate communicators, for example. Working on press releases and collateral may require a team approach, with shared responsibilities and a brainstorming environment. The important nodes are their managers, the C-suite, and their colleagues.

The HBR suggests that groups that do not require teamwork, such as salespeople, can still meet as a group occasionally, but it doesn’t necessarily have to have team-building or team development at its core. It can be a meeting to promote social cohesion or to share challenges and best practices in meeting them. But the management structure is more one hub (the sales manager) and spokes rather than a team.

Some jobs, however, may have a primary focus on clients, rather than colleagues.

Depending on Function

So how do you tell whether your managers should aim toward a teamwork structure or not? One method is to look at the important tasks your group has. The HBR identifies 8, and suggests that the determination stem from them.

They are:

  1. Agenda Setters. They need to develop business strategy, priorities, and then communicate it.
  2. Integrators. They are responsible for promoting integration across the firm.
  3. Execution Drivers. They have responsibilities for both planning and execution of goals, and for setting up accountability systems.
  4. Talent Developers. Talent developers are primarily responsible for attracting and retaining talent, along with assessing it.
  5. Diplomats. The prime focus of this group is to develop and strengthen internal alliances.
  6. Role Models. The prime focus of role models is to mold organizational culture and values.
  7. Architects. Architects design the company, with the goal of transforming it.
  8. Trailblazers. Trailblazers lead innovation, training, and adaptation.

Obviously, many roles will have overlap. Salespeople, though, can be Agenda Setters and Trailblazers, roles that may not need a team setting. Diplomats and Integrators, by contrast, may thrive in a team environment, where their tasks can be optimized.

Good business leadership requires not so much always fostering teams, but knowing what roles work best with teamwork and which roles don’t require it to be optimized.

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