2016 May

Team spirit | The Economist

Teaming reflects modern society @ FS-Green, and while we have a lot to learn, postmodern hierarchy (PMH) is here to stay.

We will pay a price for overdoing FS-Green, just like we are paying a price for overdoing ER-Orange and before that DQ-Blue…and so on.

Teams is no less a car wash principle than conventional hierarchy.

PMH allows teaming and recognizes a vast array of naturally-hard wired differences to evolve and self-organize within that hierarchy, or so I think.

Teams drawn without respect for natural differences is no betta than hierarchies that are dysfunctional;)


4 replies on “Team spirit | The Economist”

Some thoughts….

My response to these kinds of articles is mostly…well what is your point? Abolish teams? Huh? Really? Like hierarchies, like no hierarchies, teams are blunt force instruments.

But in the context of pace, complexity and scale of work, it is a viable option, especially given most tasks are cross-functional, cross-disciplinary and just way too big/complex for an individual to handle. (And, of course, they can be overplayed…like trying to hammer in a screw).

But what are the practical alternatives? Very few tasks or roles can be carved out as a “one person assignment.” I can think of very few. E.G. Protecting a super productive salesperson out in the field, but even that person is supported by teams of people on all kinds of functions. Or the task is really simple, like running a small business and there are no people to team with anyway (a farmer, an independent insurance agent).

The utter overwhelm of what most leaders are faced with require vast shortcuts in how to apply an emerging process/mobilizing capacity solution to shape approaches to various problems. Any one person will not get very far attending to most problems on their own, just the necessity of aligning buy in will require collaborative structures.

These kinds of articles also rarely reflect the reality of most peoples’ work lives. Much more common is that I am on three teams, embedded in strategic conversations both inside my hierarchy and intermittently outside of it, report to this boss but sort of also report to these two people too, and have these tasks that I own/lead.

I would say that evolution of “teaming” (which is radically different than even 15 years ago) reflects the necessary evolution toward how to handle complex tasks.

I’ve come full circle on FS-GREEN. Really need to differentiate it from faux-green (RED / BLUE). A person with capacity to deeply collaborate must have a more complex ego structure. And the problem there is that is a tall task that most are not capable of. And maybe I am mixing the stage theory of ego complexity with whatever spiral dynamics has become, which I’ve lost touch with.

So most “collaborative” efforts are really a bruising battle for who’s ideas/perspectives/approaches survive or die and how does the process support my role, my positioning in the organization. And that, of course, is a different kind of collaboration.

I would say a more complex collaboration holds the tensions of difference and gives that tension space to percolate into emergent solutions (that requires greater ego complexity of at least a few of the leaders of an effort). A less complex collaboration corrals a bunch of people and lets the fight begin and those with greatest power/tenacity/persistence will win the day. This is a more of a self-organizing approach, the solution will find its own level but will rarely produce a breakthrough result, but often produces a serviceable solution, which is often what the organization needs.

I would also say that EVERY approach/structure is “dysfunctional.” Question is whether one is more productive than another for a particular task. I don’t think most leaders choose a “team approach” to a particular problem because they are embedded at FS-GREEEN, I think it is usually much more a function of the alternatives available, a team is often the best available option. And it gets the task off of the leaders plate, for a while anyway.

I agree, Jim.

This kind of writing is endemic in the management literature and it serves poorly.

What does the author mean by “team”? Is a department a team? Is a manager with subordinates a team?

The article states or implies that team and hierarchy are incompatible (without bothering to define either term). I don’t get it.

What I get from the article is that people are using the word “team” a lot and whatever that word is intended to refer to, we should be careful.

Is there anything else in the content that’s meaningful?


Scanned the article quickly.

My take is that networked self-organizing (teaming) and hierarchies are both naturally occurring forms of human cooperation. Because they are naturally occurring forms, they have legitimacy when applied deliberately. Which approach to apply to what situation is a question of trade-offs and use case. Any call to use only one or the other is an instance of polarity thinking, I believe.

I think most organizations today have both forms of organizing at play. I’ve heard them referred to as two circuitries. Or, as I prefer, two kinds of human circuitries. To mix metaphors, I have a hypothesis that the necessary lynchpin between the two human circuitries so they might be more ‘functional’ is accountability. Accountability being a codification of exchange over repeat instances with upside for cooperation and downside for defection.

The trick, of course, is that a team can’t be accountable. Only humans that make up the team can be accountable. If one person on the team is accountable for the outputs of the rest of the team, you begin to have a mini hierarchy. If all persons on the team are accountable, there must be protections against free riding.

Anyway, how I’m thinking about this stuff lately.


I always liked Michael Anderson’s definition of team….from 15 years ago…still holds for me. “A group of people who need each other to act.” When I work with executive teams I really challenge them on…do you need to be a team, because it is damn hard work, and takes a lot of time. Rather I have them focus on the work projects they have accountability for that really require that they operate as a team, so more about teaming and less about team

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