Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Teams; ‘Real Teams’ And Curating Your Own Attention

Researched the website of Jon Katzenbach, one of the co-authors of ‘The Discipline of Teams’. I thought it would be interesting to see where his thinking on this topic has evolved to since 1993.

Happily enough, he has a page on Team Discipline. So at least he has not given up on the topic, actually he rather seems to have coined it on this one. The article is now a fully fledged book as well, (although not one that is going to win any cover design awards in this particular universe). One of the statements on his site caught my eye and crystallised something that had been bothering me about the core HBR article.

These kinds of performance units (often called teams) work best with concentrated leadership and individual accountability. They are, however, not ‘real teams’, although their performance results can be significant and appropriate.
There is a bit of a rhetorical sleight of hand going on here. He is saying that there are lots of potential groupings that other people may call ‘teams’ but that only specific defined groupings that follow his analysis are ‘real teams’. In his opinion. This may give us an opening for some critique in that surely you cannot be too prescriptive about these things: he says himself above that a grouping may achieve significant and appropriate results yet not be a ‘real team’. We could argue that if the results are achieved then what does it matter.

Thinking about the creative services and particularly the designer’s role (as with other knowledge workers) you need to discover your own balance point between having to work alone to generate your primary value-added output and the time you spend working within teams. Being successful today means more and more having to steward and protect your attention.

Carving out your ‘Doing-Time’ when you take no email and have your phone off the hook, so that you can get into the flow state is becoming an ever-more important career skill. In our role as designers, time spent in ‘making and doing’ mode has to be at least equal to that spent in ‘discussing and debating’ mode. I am not discounting that success also means having to be a committed team player when it comes to those parts of your job where teamwork is essential. Just that the nuances are different and that a lot of the kind of executive team examples in the MA literature to date have as their sole function going from meeting to meeting and adding their real value through personal interaction.

UPDATE: Paul Graham’s 2009 essay: ‘Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule’ is an insightful analysis of this topic.