Reason 3

They Make Everyone More Stupid20151104_145408

Amazing isn’t it? You put eight bright people into a room together and their collective intelligence sinks like a stone in water. Here’s a valuable rule of thumb: the bigger a team grows, the dumber it gets. So why bother with teams at all you might ask. Good question. Teams don’t HAVE to make everyone more stupid, it’s just that they often do. The collective intelligence of the group never reaches its potential. And surprisingly this is usually on account of one of the following three pretty darn simple reasons:

  1. They don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing.
  2. They know what they’re supposed to be doing but don’t care.
  3. They don’t know how to go about doing what they are supposed to be doing.

We’ve already examined the first reason.

The second can be approached in one of two ways. Either enlist volunteers who care about the issue, or make it a performance requirement.  Okay, okay, this second solution seems heavy handed and oh so uncreative so you may want to supplement it with sophisticated motivational techniques, but after all that make it a performance requirement anyway.

Enlisting volunteers who care about the issue is a really good way to keep everyone from getting stupid but it is really critical to deal with that first point above right away. Quite often you find out volunteers THINK they care about the issue but when push comes to shove they really care about something else that’s attached to the issue and then not only do people begin to get stupid, they also get angry with each other. Volunteers or not, in most organizations being on a team needs some kind of performance imperative.

The third reason requires either technical or interpersonal solutions or both. If the technical reason is that nobody on the team actually has the skill or capability to act on what they’re doing then you have to ask why the heck are these people on the team? You simply have to have people with the skill or capability so go find them.

More often though, the technical reason has to do with problem solving or decision making. If the problem is in decision making (and it often is) then figure out how the team is going to make a decision. Majority vote, pass it up the ladder, (consensus is another reason we’ll deal with later) or someone having the final say.  Whatever it is, figure it out and stick to it.

If the technical mess is problem solving such as understanding root causes, generating solutions etc. then find a problem solving process that the team can work with.  At last count there was about a million of these processes to choose from and your organization probably has a bunch of these so just pick one and stick to it.  Just one word of caution here. Don’t pick a problem solving process that is more complicated than the challenge you are working on.

On the interpersonal side of things, teams get more stupid because members aren’t good at expressing themselves or can’t handle conflict well and as a result, potentially great contributions never surface.  These interpersonal problems will, in many cases, require outside help since either the solutions are not obvious or the team doesn’t want to make them obvious.

While it may seem like more fun to begin with the interpersonal stuff, resist the temptation to do so. After addressing the first two reasons noted above and the technical part of the third, you’ll be amazed at how many interpersonal issues just disappear. If not, and the team is still stupid then find someone who knows what she or he is doing in the interpersonal area and get them working with the team on these issues. Make sure they don’t have any big investment in whatever the team is working on.  If they do, they’re at risk of becoming part of the problem and just as stupid as everyone else involved.

Discussion and comment points for this post:

  1. What have you experienced that makes some teams just get stupid?
  2. Have you ever found that working in depth on interpersonal issues doesn’t help the team actually perform any better?
  3. What do you think are the primary things that help teams actually achieve their potential?
  4. Have you ever worked with a volunteer team? What were some of the challenges you faced that could/did make them more stupid than they should have been?

2 Responses

  1. Building on your idea that sometimes team members think they care about the issue but really care about something attached to the issue, the place where I have seen teams act “stupid” is when the outcome of the team’s work will affect team members in different ways. Rather than asking the question “How can we come up with a creative solution that will meet most or all of everyone’s needs?”, the team becomes divided along lines of two or more different directions/approaches to the problem and never gain the alignment needed to make progress toward a result/solution. This stalemate can be addressed through a neutral mediator, but in my experience we more often see intervention from a higher level to mandate a particular path forward.

    • Sara, you have touched on a good point and a difficult one to get at since quite often the different perspectives on direction or approach do not surface until the team is well along in its work. The team may have thought they were aligned then find out they aren’t and by then you can have entrenched positions and people get defensive and aggressive.

      Actually intervention from above can be effective to solve this problem but it does very little to prevent the problem from occurring again….

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