Preston Smith's Corner

We call ourselves a team, but we don’t act like one. What can we do?

October 2002 Quick Tip

You are not alone. “Team” is a much-abused word. Take the so-called customer service team at your local telephone company, for instance. These hundreds of people probably work in different locations, and few of them know each other. Their objective is to close a customer request by themselves — without involving anyone else on the “team,” if possible.

Product development projects can benefit from a far stronger form of team, but it takes considerable work to set up and maintain such a team. In some cases, the effort required outweighs the benefit obtained, especially in some corporate cultures and management environments.

Katzenbach and Smith (no relationship) in their recent book, “The Discipline of Teams,” suggest that in many cases a single-leader discipline is good enough and much easier to apply than a team discipline. They are careful to pick the type of organization (discipline in their terminology) that fits the project’s needs, rather than automatically assuming that a team is best.

Each of your product development projects has different objectives, and each will operate in a different managerial environment. Rather than always assuming that a team is best and then often being disappointed with the results, consider explicitly picking a form that suits your needs and resources for that project.

For more on team versus single-leader disciplines, see our book review.

(c) Copyright 2013 Preston G. Smith. All Rights Reserved.

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