There is a surprising amount of misinformation and assumptions out there about effective teamwork and creating and maintaining an effective team. Leaders who believe these myths can actually hamper team cohesion. I will lay them out here.
Myths of Effective Teams 1: Teams are always self-directed
While a team can become self-directed over time, it is never automatically self-directed. Likewise, a team does not often stay self-directed for long. I will use the committee as an example. Committees are teams with a specific expected outcome. They often take orders externally and often have specific tasks and parameters given to them. Once the outcome is achieved, the committee may disband. Even teams on long-term projects that have routine or regular tasks to accomplish will need specific direction and guidance at various intervals. Setting a team to a task and sending it in a specific direction is fine, but do not expect it to automatically direct itself.
Myths of Effective Teams 2: Work team participation can be mandated
Requiring absolute participation in a team can be a disastrous mandate for a team leader. After all, team members have free will, and if they do not want to do something, they will not do it. An example might be where a new team member has a flex-work arrangement where he works from home 1 or 2 days a week, but the team leader wants everyone on site, every day during work hours. If the team member accepted this job with the flex-work understanding in place, requiring him to be in the office every day can create tremendous friction. Ideally, if you are the team member being affected by a mandate, it is best to approach the team leader respectfully to discuss the issue. If you are the team leader, listen to team members’ concerns about new work implementations.
Myths of Effective Teams 3: Employees always want to be empowered and to work as teams
Not every employee is enthused to hear they will now be working as part of a team. Some employees prefer working alone. And refer to Myth 2 above: leaders cannot make an employee follow a mandate if that employee does not want to. Of course, in some workplaces, team leaders get little say as to who is placed on their team. In other companies, team leaders can pick every member of the team. The latter is ideal because a team leader can bring on team members who will contribute to and participate in the team’s success. The former is more challenging, especially if one or more team members prefer working alone.
Myths of Effective Teams 4: Every team decision requires a consensus
Achieving consensus on many decisions is very helpful in forming a strong team, but a consensus is not a requirement on each and every decision. Sometimes a leader must make the decision for the team. Sometimes the team members can make a decision among themselves. Sometimes a decision has to be made, even if one or more team members are not happy with the decision.
Myths of Effective Teams 5: Work teams are free or cheap
When was the last time that anything worth having was free? The same applies to great teams.
Myths of Effective Teams 6: Work teams always produce error-free outcomes
Teams are made up of people, and mistakes happen. If you want to be a great team, do not worry about the possibility of someone making a mistake. Instead, when a mistake or error happens, focus on what went wrong, NOT who messed up. Correct the error if you can, and look toward the future. Take the learning opportunity to discuss what the team can do to prevent the mistake from happening again.
Myths of Effective Teams 7: Work teams are new
Companies have been discussing work teams as a formal idea since at least the 1920s. The Hawthorne Studies helped formalize the concept of teams in the workplace. Naturally, teams had likely been around since hunter-gatherer times. These studies looked at what made teams tick, and, the common traits of successful teams.
Avoid perpetuating these myths about work teams and you will open the way to better team cohesion.