Which comes first?
- The social team, or
- The outcome team?
Let's start with Jon Katzenbach's definition of a team. Katzenbach is a recognized leader in counseling high profile CEO's and their staff - the business teams that are at the heart of corporations. His book The Wisdom of Teams was a seminal work for me when I led some of the teams working a large and very complex Department of Energy program.
What struck me, and has never left, is the core confusion of how many in the agile world start with the social aspects of project teams.
First there is another core confusion revealed by Katzenbach.
If you are on a team, who is your opponent?
I played collegiate volleyball. That volleyball team had opponents. Other universities. University of California, Irvine, versus University of California, Los Angeles. Our team had a clear and concise of the outcome - beat UCLA (it rarely happened). But no member of the team was on the team for the social aspects as their first goal. We were all there to play competitive volleyball. While there are a dozen or so members of the UCI Volleyball team, teams can be smaller. The rowing teams that practice on the Boulder Reservoir in a 2 man scull are a team. They are also on the larger team of all scull's - single, 2 man, and 4 man - women as well.
So Katzenbach's definition helps clarify how teams that are formed (paraphrased)
A team is a small group of individuals who hold each other accountable for a shared outcome.
For teams to be successful, we need individuals, accountability, and a shared outcome.
The social aspects of the team may or may not result from the individuals, accountability and shared outcome. The social aspects don't have to have these attributes.
What I've observed over the years, both in my teams, and or now college age children is a migration from the outcomes first paradigm, to the friends and social aspects first. Good for them. But I'm waiting to see how well this turns out in practice.
If the first condition is to form a social unit, that is stable and has an identity, can they actually get the job done. Having a shared outcome as the starting point may allow the team to ignore the social aspects until there is evidence that the shared outcome and the mutual accountability are in place and the members actually want to participate in the social part of the team.
On the volleyball team, the mutual accountability was in place. It had to be in place, or we would not play well. But the social unit was nice, but not necessary. It was - and is - the mutual accountability that was the basis of success.
So 3 people working together for 2 months is a Team if - they have a shared outcome and hold each other mutually accountable for that outcome.We can have a team of golfers playing in a tournament on our course. We can have a spring clean up team at the park. If they are holding each other accountable for a shared outcome. Win the scrable or clean up the winter branches.
Remove the need for the social, stability, and identity as the first condition. The team is still there, it's doing its work for that period of performance, and most of all they are holding each other mutually accountable for that work.
Social, stability, and identity are all very nice outcomes. But they are not the core conditions for success of a team.
When those shared goals start appearing, and the mutual accountability is working, the social, stability, and identity come naturally as a result. The other way around may not produce the same result, simply because the shared outcome - the teams goal - is not based explicitly on mutual accountability.