You ever wonder if organizations even want teams at all? I hear a lot of people in business talk all about the importance of team empowerment and how teams are vital to the business. Then I watch what they do. At times business act in ways that positively diminish the impact of the their teams. It is almost as if the business is deliberating engaging in teamicide.
Teamicide is a term first coined in the book Peopleware, by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister. In Peopleware, they called out the common behaviors many organizations take that kill healthy teams and prevent other teams from jelling or reaching a state of high-performance. Here are their main culprits.
- Bureaucracy – is the natural outcome of defensive management and is often represented as a necessary part of “the process”. Lean Thinking calls this waste. Paperwork, and all the associated paper pushing, offers very little value and saps team moral and initiative. Only the most essential should remain and all the rest should be deleted.
- Physical separation – people who have no casual\social interactions with one another will never create a team identity or develop a sense of eliteness. The social connections are the condensation nuclei around which the team begins to jell. While the Furniture Police will talk a good game about building a flexible workplace serving the need of the business and the teams, all the “long faces come out” when someone suggests moving people close to one another so they can get the work done.
- Fragmentation of time – a more modern term for this concept is called “multitasking”. Multitasking is evil and is one of the Seven Wastes of Software Development. Don’t do it! So who suffers the most from this fragmentation of time? Usually the person doing the work. These poor people experience such frequent frustration at their inability to manage all the daily interruptions. In reality, these people work in a broken system designed to frustrate their every move.
- Quality-reduced product – nothing drives the spirit of a team into the ground when the management gives the order to produce garbage. Of course, no one says to the team, “Build junk”. What they say is, “Build it on time and within budget”, both which were outrageously low to begin with. High-performing teams have to be the best and the idea that quality is optional is an anathema to their pride and ownership of the work.
- Phony deadlines – always employed by the Spanish Theory manager because people don’t work hard unless they have a deadline. Everyone knows the deadline is fake, but everyone goes through the motion of accepting they are real. The only thing a phony deadlines does is engender ill-will between management and the team.
- Competition – for the team to become the very best, the need to coach one another and be available to help each other freely. Anything the business does to show one member of team is more special than the others introduces competition. Annual reviews, praise for extraordinary effort, bonuses, prizes and cash tied to performance and performance metrics are techniques that favor individual accomplishment over team outcomes.
- Motivational posters – we have all seen them on Sky Mall. They usually include a positive business concept like teamwork or collaboration followed by some pithy statement that is both wholly obviously and extremely condescending. Motivational posters are the triumph of form over substance and are an insult to thinking professionals every where.
- Breaking up a winning team – take your favorite sports team and imagine they just won the national championship (or equivalent) for the third year in a row. Could you imagine the owners breaking-up this team after winning three championship titles in a row? Of course not! That would be crazy! And yet it happens all the time in business.