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Are We Ready for Heavy Lifting?


Before embarking on a team-building effort, your team needs to answer two big questions:

Question #1: Are we really a team?

Sometimes a team improvement effort is doomed from the start because the group going through it isn’t really a team at all, at least not in the true sense of the word. You see, a team is a relatively small number of people (anywhere from three to twelve) that shares common goals as well as the rewards and responsibilities for achieving them. Team members readily set aside their individual or personal needs for the greater good of the group.

If your “team” doesn’t meet these criteria, you might want to consider whether you have a smaller subset of the group that is a real team. Or maybe the group is simply a collection of people who report to the same manager, but with relatively little interdependence and mutual accountability (that is, not a team).

And remember, it’s okay to decide that your group isn’t a team. In a world where teamwork is rarer than we might think, plenty of non-teams succeed. In fact, if your group is not meant to be a team, it’s far better to be clear about that than to waste time and energy pretending you’re something you’re not. Because that only creates false expectations, which leads to frustration and resentment.

Question #2: Are we ready for heavy lifting?

Let me be very clear: the advantages of being a true team are enormous. But they can’t be achieved without a willingness to invest considerable time and emotional energy in the process. Unfortunately, many teams aren’t prepared for this, and try to take shortcuts and half measures. Not only does this prevent them from making progress, it can actually lead to a decrease in the team’s performance.

It’s important that you go into this process with eyes wide open, and with no illusions about what is required. That doesn’t mean becoming a team takes years, or that it will be unpleasant. In fact, most teams can make significant progress in weeks or months, and find the process itself to be one of the most rewarding parts of their professional lives.

Excerpt, Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team