What kind of team are we?

Everyone loves to talk about teamwork.  Consults will consult.  Writers will write.  Leaders will lead.  And all of them are obsessed with teamwork.

But recently, I was watching my daughter’s track meet and thought about all the different types of teams that exist.  Each one requiring different types of teamwork.  We often don’t think about that in a work environment, even though we see examples of all of these in our workplaces.

Basketball (or soccer or football):  In this team sport, each player has a role, plays that they run, and they are constantly communicating to react successfully to new competitive conditions.  They share a common time clock, a common score board, a common uniform, a common coach, and are all playing the same game.  They are all striving to make or assist with the making of points.  The work group is an example of this kind of team.  Coming together, each representing a role or a strength, to collaborative work on a single deliverable, project, or document.   The key to results of this kind of team is aptitude and attitude.  If the individuals know their own strengths and weaknesses, and that of their teammates and can work selflessly towards the team goal, then greatness can be achieved.

Relay: In a relay team, each player has a role, but they don’t play them at the same time.  They, too, are constantly communicating, but only to assure successful hand-offs.  They share a common time clock, score board, and possibly a common uniform.  Each person on the team is running, but they are placed in position because of their relative strengths and speed.  They are dividing and conquering a larger task (in this case, a race) by breaking it into individual pieces.  A service escalation is this kind of team.  The first leg might be done by a customer service agent on the phone.  Then the problem is escalated to a technician, to a service manager, and then to an engineer.  Throughout, there is a common time clock and a common goal of customer issue resolution.  Everyone is doing similar jobs, but are doing it in their own way.  The key to achievement with this team is individual competence and the game is won or lost at the hand-offs.

Track and Field: The larger team, of which a relay is a part, is a loose affiliate of people who are all performing in tandem to rack up points for their overall team.  They are all in the same location (the track meet) and subject to the same environmental conditions and priorities.  Yet, they are all doing their own things.  Often in tandem (with field events happening the same time as running events).  Often together (as is the case with the relay team).  But each person is an individual contributor doing their best, which results in team achievement.  But you can’t ask a pole vaulter to anchor the 4 x 100 relay team and you can’t ask the person doing the 3,000 meters to throw the shot put.  A product launch is an example of this.  Web site content and brochures can’t be written until the messaging is complete, but that is often done by a different group.  Messaging benefits from a thorough understanding of features and benefits.  Features can’t be known until the engineering finalizes the design.  And those features can’t be determined or prioritized without market requirements.  Together these can show customers why the product is a winner, but each step of the process is quite unique and not interchangeable.  The key to achievement with this team is getting individuals to perform their best.

There are many other types of teams that can follow these and other patterns.  Debate teams work a bit like the relay and a track and field team.  Choirs are like relays in many ways, as the blending and the music reading is like the hand-offs.  Cleaning and painting crews can be more like a basketball team.  Kitchen staff or wait staff in restaurants can mimic all of these at times.  The key to any type of teamwork is for the group to first recognize what kind of teamwork is required.