Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 9, Issue 21;   May 27, 2009: Teamwork Myths: Formation

Teamwork Myths: Formation

by

Much of the conventional wisdom about teams is in the form of over-generalized rules of thumb, or myths. In this first part of our survey of teamwork myths, we examine two myths about forming teams.
Statue of Hermes with modern head

Statue of Hermes with modern head. White marble, Antonine Era, second century. From Porcigliano estates in Castelporziano. Hermes was the ancient Greek god of business, among other duties. Although Greek businessmen probably relied on Hermes for insight and assistance in their deals, most people today would doubt that such reliance ever did much good. So it is with our modern reliance on principles and guidelines for which there is today little evidence or support — our descendants will regard these beliefs as mythology. The work is at Museo delle Terme di Diocleziano in Rome.

People have been working in teams since before the word 'team' was invented, but modern industrial organizations have adopted the team structure in just the past generation. Because the transition from functional structures is still underway, our understanding of teams is incomplete, and in some ways, incorrect.

To advance our knowledge, and to become more comfortable with this relatively new way of organizing work, we adopt and propagate beliefs that seem plausible. They might apply often, but they aren't necessarily universal. I call them myths because their universal truth certainly is questionable, even though they do sometimes yield desirable results.

One popular example is the idea of the "Mythical Man-Month" conceived and popularized by Fred Brooks. This myth holds that we can speed up all work by applying more people to the task. The reverse usually occurs: applying more people usually slows the work.

Brooks's myth is just one of many teamwork myths. Here is the first in a series about teamwork myths, exploring two myths about team formation.

There is an optimal size for all teams
Various investigations have reported optimal sizes for teams, ranging from five to fifteen and more. In team-oriented organizations, wide variation in team size can create management problems, which lead some to search for an optimal team size.
Problems arise, for example, in task reporting, management development, performance management, and compensation equity for team leads. For instance, meeting reporting requirements can be easy for a large team, but an undue burden for a small team.
An optimal team size range probably does exist, but it depends on the culture of the organization in which the team is embedded; the degree of dispersion in geography, language, or profession; the need for specialized knowledge; the complexity of the task; the prevalence of split assignments; and the skill of the team's leadership. Most important is how well the teammates know each other.
When sizing a new team, be guided not by purportedly universal rules of thumb, but by the nature of the task, the character of the organization and the particular people who lead and belong to the team.
Team building is worthwhile only at the beginning
We use team building to achieve team cohesion and effective collaboration. Some believe that after the first application, further investment in team cohesion provides only minimal returns.
Although we do use team building in the beginning of the team's life, we must attend toWe must attend to team
cohesion continuously,
not just at the outset
team cohesion continuously. The need increases with the frequency of changes in team composition; with increases in geographic dispersion; and with increases in stress. Stresses can result from new challenges, or from changes in resources, requirements, or constraints imposed from external sources.

Following erroneous guidelines is always problematic. It can be especially damaging during team formation, because damage occurs so early and repair can be so, so costly.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: One Cost of Split Assignments  Next Issue

For more teamwork myths, see "Teamwork Myths: Conflict," Point Lookout for June 17, 2009, and "Teamwork Myths: I vs. We," Point Lookout for July 1, 2009.

Order from AmazonThe Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering is a classic of the literature of software engineering, but it has a place on the bookshelf of any project manager or project sponsor. Order from Amazon.com

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenkEYLDCisMHDKOcUCner@ChacaGyeaWFKTbGOoIGUoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

The blaming bossWhen Your Boss Attacks Your Self-Esteem
Your boss's comments about your work can make your day — or break it. When you experience a comment as negative or hurtful, you might become angry, defensive, withdrawn, or even shut down. When that happens, you're not at your best. What can you do if your boss seems intent on making every day a misery?
A phoenixFilms Not About Project Teams: II
Here's Part II of a list of films and videos about project teams that weren't necessarily meant to be about project teams. Most are available to borrow from the public library, and all are great fun.
The Johari WindowAssumptions and the Johari Window: II
The roots of both creative and destructive conflict can often be traced to the differing assumptions of the parties to the conflict. Here's Part II of an essay on surfacing these differences using a tool called the Johari window.
Signers of the 1938 Munich AgreementHow to Reject Expert Opinion: I
When groups of decision-makers confront complex problems, they sometimes choose not to consult experts or to reject their advice. How do groups come to make these choices?
An adult male mountain lion captured by biologistsThe Myth of Difficult People
Many books and Web sites offer advice for dealing with difficult people. There are indeed some difficult people, but are they as numerous as these books and Web sites would have us believe? I think not.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Project Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Five almondsComing October 25: Workplace Memes
Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
Terminal 3 of Beijing Capital International AirportAnd on November 1: Risk Creep: I
Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep? Available here and by RSS on November 1.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenekAYRMuVMFiotbprner@ChacTqkoyjKQXRldhdiJoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Workplace Politics Awareness Month KitIn October, increase awareness of workplace politics, and learn how to convert destructive politics into creative politics. Order the Workplace Politics Awareness Month Kit during October at the special price of USD 29.95 and save USD 10.00! Includes a copy of my tips book 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics which is a value!! ! Check it out!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.