My obsession with teams

· October 4, 2017

I love working in teams, when I get the chance. There are a few teams that I’ve been in that still lives vividly in my mind. The way you feel togetherness and trust in teams are awesome.

But lately a thought has slipped into my mind; are teams always the best grouping of people to complete a task? What if I’m in more than one team? What kind of team feeling will that give me and the others in the team? What is a number one team?

And; just writing this post feels like blasphemy after 12+ years of promoting teams as the optimal way to work together.

Just to be clear - I still think it’s awesome, but maybe not always best for the situation at hand. </storm of angry comments from agile people avoided>

Before I write another word: being a team is not a goal in itself. There’s many different ways of working together, each useful in their context at a certain time. But I think we often default of using teams as form of cooperation and then end up being disappointed or confused when we are not working as a team.

Definitions of team

What is a team really. Here’s how I view it:

A group a people that cooperate to achieve a common goal

The whole idea is that we get value from working on tasks together.

Let’s check some better more formal definition (I have actually not read these before I wrote the sentence above).

Google says:

(Noun) a group of players forming one side in a competitive game or sport.


(verb) come together as a team to achieve a common goal.

Merriam-Webster emphasises the cooperation:

a number of persons associated together in work or activity

And in the business dictionary we read:

A group of people with a full set of complementary skills required to complete a task, job, or project.

Team members (1) operate with a high degree of interdependence, (2) share authority and responsibility for self-management, (3) are accountable for the collective performance, and (4) work toward a common goal and shared rewards(s). A team becomes more than just a collection of people when a strong sense of mutual commitment creates synergy, thus generating performance greater than the sum of the performance of its individual members.

Yay! I was not to far off in my simplistic definition. The defining trait is that we are a team to do tasks, achieving goals and share rewards together.

Number one team

There’s also a term being used more and more from the excellent Five Dysfunctions of a team book: your number one team. To my understanding this represent my home team. A group of people where I feel safe (physiologically) to share my ups and downs. I go to this group for support in hard decisions. The team has a united front behind which we support each other.

This sounds like “home” or “family” to me. A group, and place even, where I can be myself. This would be the number place for me to sit and gravitate back to, even though I might be involved in other groups.

Other form of cooperation

There are of course other forms of cooperation: we might never meet in person and still cooperate, we might just have been tossed together in a workgroup or we have several teams working together, each with their individual goals trying to achieve an overarching goal.

Often the word team is used to describe this, but it’s not really what we mean. A good example of this is leadership teams. I’ve been involved in helping leadership groups work better together several times - not a single one of them have been a team.

They have just shared their individual work for alignment and knowledge, gaining transparency and shared understanding of status and progress. Occasionally the people in the workgroup have helped each other out with tasks and in reaching goal.

Here’s the key; they didn’t deliver value together. They delivered value. They stood next to each other and supported each other. But they did not work together. There’s no extra value from working as a team, other than sharing information.

That’s not something bad. In fact that is awesome and could be a game changer. But it’s not a team. A team delivers value together. There’s an additional value of working together that is greater than the sum of the parts.

My favourite example of this, is also the strongest kind of team work I’ve seen in work environment; mob programming. There’s greater value in having these people working together at one keyboard, one screen - than the value of them being by themselves. The efficiency (keystrokes per minutes) goes down, but the effectiveness (working software in product) goes up by being a team. Is our work like that? Now? Do we want to become that? Why?

It’s not better or worse to be in a team, it’s just a different form of cooperation and we are striving for different values. For example, the practices and goals of a coach (for example) might be different for a team than for a workgroup. A team is about coming closer together as a group while a workgroup is more about status reporting, alignment and planning, for example.


I repeat my disclaimer from above, as a summary.

There’s many different ways of working together, each useful in their context at a certain time. But I often default of using teams as form of cooperation and then end up being disappointed or confused when we are not working as a team.

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