Teamwork is an Unnatural Act

Teamwork is an Unnatural Act: Are Your Teams and Organizations Dumbed Down? (Excerpt from Relly’s Leading with Emotional Intelligence)

Teamwork is very popular today in organizations, but it is an unnatural act that takes a strategy, discipline and practice. Most organizations talk about teamwork and put a group of workers together and say “you are a team now”. Duly formed, the team is marched out onto the field to succeed or fail. Coaches can help leaders and their teams avoid performance issues.

The problem is without a strong leader or well developed teamwork skills, more people equal lower team Intelligence Quotient or IQ. For each new person on the team without a strong teamwork process, the team IQ can decrease about 2 points or more. A team of 7 people not formed or trained well then can lose approximately a standard deviation (14-15 points) in Intelligence. Each individual can have a high average IQ, above 115, but the team IQ can hover between 70-85, low average and low performing. Urgency, complexity and individual focus can lead to stress and reduced individual cognitive functioning, where team players and leaders then can perform at their worst. Defensiveness, blaming, ignoring, micromanaging and being unclear in directions, all lower the team IQ and have them operating in a “dumbed down” manner.

In a performance group or on a sports team, over 90% of the participants time is spent practicing–standardizing their routines or processes, identifying roles and responsibilities, improving communication effectiveness, working on their coordination, alignment or teamwork. The focus is learning from mistakes until they are ready to perform for the audience or fans. The result is a high performing team where the team IQ is synergistic and thus higher then the individual IQ’s.

It is a documented fact that, in the corporate world, less than 5% of an individual’s time is devoted to off-line learning. In fact, nearly all the learning in organizations happens after the fact and in front of customers, where mistakes are costly to organizations’ reputation and bottom line and the individual’s career development (Nadler, 2007). Emotional and Social Intelligence have been written about as the “new science of success and human relationships” (Goleman, 2006, Albrecht, 2006). Working in teams then becomes the playing field to demonstrate these skills.

Hillary Elfenbein (2006), assistant professor at Berkley, published a study linking emotional intelligence with team performance at work. She found that “teams with greater average emotional intelligence have a higher team functioning than [did] groups with lower emotional intelligence.” Moreover, in a team, “the ability to understand one another’s emotional expressions explained 40% of the variance in team performance.”

In today’s organizational environment it is unnatural for teams and individuals to take the same time which athletes, performers and teams do to practice their skills and improve their weaknesses. If organizations are to survive and thrive in the future, they must use the intelligence, creativity and potential of their people at all levels.

There are eight key ingredients which organizations must incorporate into their work to master the use of team. Each of these efforts counteracts what is outdated, easy and natural. If done well, the team IQ can increase approximately 2 points or more for each team member. A coach can help a leader and their team to become high performing by discussing and facilitating for the thirty actions that go with the eight ingredients.

In blogs to follow, we will look at each of these eight key ingredients and the actions to do the unnatural.


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