The Next Level of Teambuilding

Scott Briscoe in Associations Now interviewed Deborah Ancona, an MIT Management professor, who has a new book out about teams. I had heard of Ancona only in an article in HBR about distributed leadership, but I really liked it, so I was glad to see she’s got a book about teams, one of my favorite topics.

I’ve ordered the book and it hasn’t arrived yet, so I can’t speak too much about it. In the interview she says the “classic” team approach focuses too much internally on roles, norms, goals, agendas, etc. This can be problematic, as any team will need expertise and resources from OUTSIDE the team, and if the team doesn’t pay attention to its external environment, it will miss the boat. I understand her model to be additive.

Again, it’s not that traditional teams are bad; it’s that they’re only half [of] the story. Traditional teams may not completely ignore the outside world, but the focus is on building a strong, functioning team—through things like cohesion, communication, and clarity. An x team still needs those things, but the focus of the team is external. The purpose of the team is to observe and use the resources available to them from the outside to help them take the best actions inside the team.

This reinforces a trend that I see in organizations: a lot of what has been written about in the business world about human dynamics (conflict, communication, relationships, emotional intelligence, etc.) is being presented as a given. You have to know this stuff, because the REAL challenge is [fill in the blank: x-team, distributed leadership, etc.]. Things are moving too quickly to be bogged down by poor communication or lack of group cohesion.

But you can’t just demand better performance in these areas. You have to invest time to build capacity.


  1. 04.08.2007 at 11:22 pm

    Here’s a teambuilding tip. Let your team leave work 1-2 hours early once a week. So they can get to the gym or spend more time with their families. They will be back the next day more motivated and refreshed.