You Call That a Team?!?

Published: August 2, 2011

These days, everyone sees themselves as being a part of many teams. Beyond your work colleagues, families, neighborhood groups, garage bands, and recreational athletes, to name a few, all claim ownership to team dynamics. But really, do all of these "teams" actually qualify as a team?

In the simplest terms, a team is two or more people who collaborate. Taking this definition to the extreme, that makes me a teammate with the kid I pay to cut my grass. Generalizing teamwork to mere collaboration sets the bar low. Almost anyone can collaborate. You do your part and I’ll do mine and, between us, we’ll get the job done. As a teacher, I’ve witnessed many college projects net mediocre results because students just divvy up the tasks and head off in their own directions. Oh sure, they present a coordinated outcome when the semester comes to an end but the passion of true teamwork has often eluded them by virtue of their collaborative independence. Tasks get completed but synergy is absent. These students usually earn a “B” for their efforts.

I had the good fortune to observe a team of two skilled craftsmen drill a well seeking to tap an underground spring sixty feet below ground. Besides the impressive pinpoint accuracy that defined the outcome of their labor, their work could not have occurred without each other. At numerous moments during their three-hour task, four arms, four legs, and two brains needed to operate simultaneously with the risk of serious injury hanging in the balance. Any lapse in their communication would be costly. When it was all said and done, the two craftsmen acted as one.

Let’s expand the definition of a team. Here are the minimum qualifications;
– An unwavering commitment to interdependence.
– Clear roles and goals.
– Mutual accountability for the outcome.
– Willingness to fail in order to succeed.
– Adaptability to inevitable changing circumstances.

Based on these criteria, is your team really a team?

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.