(In this series of posts offering excerpts from the book, 'The Wisdom of Teams' by Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith (Harvard Business School Press), the excerpts are in bold.)
"We should emphasize that we are relating stories of teams, not whole organizations. We have purposely sought out teams in organizations with a wide range of performance records to better understand team dynamics in different settings. The team accomplishments, often extraordinary, are nonetheless only those of a team and, more or less, only coincide with the life of the team. Nonetheless, we have gained both knowledge and conviction by observing how consistently the conditions for team performance emerge across such a wide variety of business conditions and organizational settings."
The human animal is genetically programmed to hunt, survive, and win in packs. Team Instinct is our natural instinct and the ultimate challenge of leadership is to create 'natural' teams. Once you create a natural team you have programmed for excellence by default. Because there is no 'natural' team, that is comfortable being second. The instinctive programming of a natural team is to be first, to win.
"A demanding performance challenge tends to create a team. The hunger for performance is far more important to team success than team-building exercises, special incentives, or team leaders with ideal profiles. In fact, teams often form around such challenges without any help or support from management. Conversely, potential teams without such challenges usually fail to become teams."
A group of people become a team only when they have clarity of a common goal and alignment to a common success. Without this clarity and alignment, they can spend years together, do a host of 'team-building' activity together and still remain only a group of people.
"Moreover, in high-performance teams, the role of the team leader is less important and more difficult to identify because all members lead the team at different times."
The designated leader of a natural team only defines the destination - where the team should reach, by when, and what are the parameters that will make reaching the destination a success. But once the journey starts, whoever knows that part of the journey best, becomes the leader irrespective of formal designation or hierarchy. The others in the team empower this process. The designated leader thus becomes an 'enabler' of team leadership.
Further, a natural team expects total clarity about the destination. They do not expect clarity about the journey. The journey evolves as they go along. If the designated leader defines the destination as well as the journey, the journey may not be as effective or enjoyable as it could otherwise be. Leaving the journey open allows the team to respond creatively and powerfully to whatever happens on the way.