What Makes Teams Great?


In my current studies I have been exposed to a book entitled Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership by Lee Bolman and Terrence DealThe authors propose that the reason leaders often fail is that they fail to see their organizations through more than one lens. They create a construct that allows leaders to look at their leadership and their organizations through at least four different lenses.

Working groups and teams are an integral part of our daily leadership lives. These entities have become ubiquitous with flat organizational structures that seek to empower followers down the line. The hope is to arrive at better solutions, more effective strategies, and greater ownership. But that will only be true if certain tenets are in place among those working groups and teams. Bolman and Deal offer up the following characteristics of teams as part of the symbolic lens that is critical to a leader’s effectiveness.

  • How someone becomes a group member is important.

How people join a group or team is a mutual decision. If it is marked somehow by ritual it will elicit a “want to” aspect that can’t be bought through mere recruitment.

  • Diversity supports a team’s competitive advantage.

Recognizing and honoring group member’s unique talents and contributions will always help foster a competitive advantage and create value of the individual. This is unity through diversity.

  • Example, not command, holds a team together.

A leader’s presence and emulation of the organizational calling is more important than mere mandates. People want to follow . . . but they will follow authenticity and character much more readily and this provides the glue for a cohesive unit.

  • A specialized language fosters cohesion and commitment.

Groups and teams want to be known as special. Shared language in the form of words, phrases, and metaphors will create a unique culture that sets teams apart. A specialize language can also serve to reinforce a team’s values and beliefs.

  • Stories carry history and values and reinforce group identity.

There are certain stories and organizational legends that should always be told. They serve to keep tradition, calling and organizational DNA alive.

  • Humor and play reduce tension and encourage creativity.

Bolman and Deal state, “Effective teams balance seriousness with play and humor.” This type of balanced atmosphere can help spark innovation and team spirit.

  • Ritual and ceremony lifts spirits and reinforce values. 

Milestones should be celebrated. Individuals and teams should be honored. These types of rituals and ceremonies help raise spirits and undergird a shared mission. Progress celebrated, both at the team level and the individual level, is motivation towards team and group endurance.

  • Informal cultural players make contributions disproportionate to their formal role.

Many times the formal leader of a group or team is not the spiritual leader. Every group or team needs to elevate those individuals who deal with the human needs and emotions of the team. They are often the morale keepers. Their role is critical.

  • Soul is the secret of success. 

Every group or team needs to know and be reminded that their efforts matter. They need to know that there is a greater good that they are contributing towards. This is soul. Teams that have this aspect highlighted and supported usually achieve higher performance that those that don’t.

What do you think of Bolman and Deal’s criteria?

What would you add?

What has been your experience?

(photo credit)

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