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What’s the Secret to Managing Teams?

[et_pb_section transparent_background=”off” allow_player_pause=”off” inner_shadow=”off” parallax=”off” parallax_method=”on” padding_mobile=”off” make_fullwidth=”off” use_custom_width=”off” width_unit=”off” custom_width_px=”1080px” custom_width_percent=”80%” make_equal=”off” use_custom_gutter=”off” fullwidth=”off” specialty=”off” admin_label=”section” disabled=”off”][et_pb_row make_fullwidth=”off” use_custom_width=”off” width_unit=”off” custom_width_px=”1080px” custom_width_percent=”80%” use_custom_gutter=”off” gutter_width=”3″ padding_mobile=”off” allow_player_pause=”off” parallax=”off” parallax_method=”on” make_equal=”off” column_padding_mobile=”on” parallax_1=”off” parallax_method_1=”on” parallax_2=”off” parallax_method_2=”on” parallax_3=”off” parallax_method_3=”on” parallax_4=”off” parallax_method_4=”on” admin_label=”row” disabled=”off”][et_pb_column type=”4_4″ disabled=”off” parallax=”off” parallax_method=”on” column_padding_mobile=”on”][et_pb_text background_layout=”light” text_orientation=”left” admin_label=”Text” use_border_color=”off” border_style=”solid” disabled=”off”] is a website that invites employees, would-be and actual, to evaluate businesses as employers. Between this kind of playing field leveling application and an upcoming workforce that eschews long-term commitment, employers are trying to make their workplaces desirable.

That’s a good thing. Workplaces should be desirable. But, the inclination has to be more than a jump onto a fad bandwagon. A colleague of mine said, “Why does every firm think I want to play foosball?” Open workspace designs, while fashionable, detract from productivity according to a recent New York Times article. And, creating a team framework does not automatically endow a business as being innovative, the holy grail of desirability.

Whether spurred by trendiness or not, many teams are formed with the same hastiness as these lures of desirability. The result is that some teams are not really teams at all. This makes managing them tricky; there is no one size fits all solution. Instead, there are three tacks for managing teams – collaboration, coordination, and control. Knowing which to emphasize lies in differentiation.


A true team requires collaboration. A team exists when the output of the team’s efforts cannot come about without the contributions of team members. Design teams, problem-solving teams, marketing teams and organization development teams are true teams. The resulting product, answer, campaign or structure depends on the input of multiple, qualified people.

Of course, there is no guarantee that each person will contribute equally. Nor should there be. The act of collaboration is a creative process, yielding the best outcome with the fewest constraints. This requires managers to adopt a more laissez-faire stance, getting out of the way to let the chemistry of individuals’ interactions generate insights and create ideas. Yet, a manager’s job is to regulate, making sure that a collaborative team’s pursuits don’t meander or miss the mark altogether. While management in this scenario is light-handed on the surface, the manager is not uninvolved. Rather, the manager acts as a facilitator, very much present in the process. Offering prompts and directing discussions, the manager tethers the collaborative process to the mission of the organization and intent of the project. Involvement through observation allows the manager to assess roadblocks. For teams charged with problem solving, for example, the manager can determine if they possess the right information for decision making. In this case, managers act as connectors to sources outside the group or “servant leaders” as a recent Harvard Business Review article describes.

The manager’s presence in the collaborative process also permits him or her to assess individual performance. Without a scripted path, there are no hard metrics by which employees are typically measured. Instead, an individual’s performance in a collaborative team is judged by their contribution. While teams comprised of like-minded individuals can be engaging, there is always the oft-deadly trap of Group Think. The team’s performance must rest on each individual’s judgment skills and their respective courage to disrupt comfort for the sake of forward movement and project integrity. Yet, even these positive qualities need to be bounded. Not going too far with individualism requires respect for harmony and others’ expertise and the requisite emotional intelligence to keep one’s ego in check. These are subtle attributes for which managers must remain vigil. Whether a manager provides coaching to get an errant team member on track or team building exercises to coalesce a group showing signs of splinter or stall, managing a true team requires finesse.


Professionals working together create synergy when their efforts are coordinated. Such a group, while bearing the moniker “team”, is best described as a confederation. Each member of the confederate-type team can work independently, up to a point. For instance, lawyers working on a case or architects drafting plans for a building work alone and are guided by their training and rules of their profession. This is not to say that their respective projects are not reliant on others in their group. But, it is a sequential reliance. The output from one is the input for another.

Similar to the collaborative team, a manager’s involvement in a confederation need not be intrusive, however, the connection between parts does require project management interventions. Timelines, deadlines, and deliverables need to be created and communicated. The manager controls the big picture and offers structure so that team members can “stick to the knitting.” Employees are informed as to when they have to complete tasks and how their pieces fit together to comprise the larger project. This gives value to individual contributions, and with everyone focused on the same objective, instills a sense of camaraderie. 


Some groups are collectives of people doing parallel play. Team members perform the same activity, but there is no interdependence. Job functions that lend themselves to parallel collectives are usually pegged to the organization’s proprietary products or services. Customer service and tech support centers are two examples. Performance is not defined by other teammates or the profession’s code of ethics, as they are with collaborative teams and confederations. Consequently, managing this type of team requires control in the form of training and articulated procedures. Performance is assessed against benchmarks by continuously achieving small targets over time.  Managers must continuously monitor performance and make corrections on the spot, rather than wait for a scheduled review.


No matter what type of team, people are motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose, explains management thought leader Daniel Pink. Giving employees free reign to realize this, while keeping true to the organization’s goals, is brought about by differentiating teams and managing the right way for the team. Note: no ping pong table nor exposed brick is required. 


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