Let’s say you need teams. You may not – you may be working in a very stable business with clearly defined outcomes, roles, tasks and cycles, with little threat of disruption by for instance the next Uber.

But let’s say this is not the case, your world is complex. Nobody understands everything, and everybody is confused by a lot. Customers are redefined by the minute and are lured by novel approaches to consequently emerging needs. You need teams in your business, you know this – teams are the one organisational configuration that can be agile and diverse enough to keep making sense of the world, as well as finding ways to succeed – and that is exactly why you have been creating teams (putting quite a bit of strain on business-as-usual operations, probably).

Some of your teams are great, but most are not. Let’s say the Pareto principle applies: 20% of your teams are responsible for 80% of what you call “success” (to be clear: a successful team may decide to dissolve quickly, and an unsuccessful one may be puttering along, even in the face of a dead-end mission).

The other 80% … Well, that’s to be expected, isn’t it. Can’t beat old Pareto.

But 80%. That’s a big opportunity cost.

Let’s start with the tangible costs, the loss in results. Of the 80% not-so-great teams, a certain portion generates less business than they cost the business – salaries, other resources, and importantly: opportunity. They could have been doing something else.

How much of your organisational capacity is caught up in unproductive teams? How much opportunity is missed? How much time (they say it’s money, but it’s often even more than that) is lost?

Then, what about the effect on your people? That’s the intangible bit, and it concerns your ongoing capability to perform.

Nobody enjoys being on an underperforming team.

That said, quite a few employees don’t mind it so much – they’re that frightful percentage mentioned in employee engagement surveys as “disengaged”. You will probably keep these employees, and attract more of them, unless at some point you need to retrench them (and chances are you’ll have to cut some of the good ones too). That’s a sobering experience.

Teams are social habitats, micro-communities, places of belonging, where we may find the satisfaction of having a common purpose, where we can even develop lasting friendships while achieving something worthwhile together. We are social animals in an age of individualisation

We think that your best team players will leave if they do not consistently have good team experiences.

What does losing your most engaged and most competent team players – the people most able to work together towards a common purpose – cost your organisation?

If it is more than a little, you have a choice.

Abandon this team thing – it’s not a strategic organisational capability, and it won’t differentiate your organisation in either the consumer or employer markets. You don’t need people to bring “themselves” to work – you are running a bureaucratic factory farm where personality is an impediment (as Henry Ford implied in that infamous quote), and you can just replace the cogs when they wear out.

Or improve teams’ chances of consistently performing well in your organisation.

For 20% of your teams, this may happen naturally. You throw together some good people, and they get stuff done, regardless. But to ensure the consistent performance of, let’s say for the sake of symmetry, 80% of the remainder, consider embedding a “team culture” in the organisation, supported by the right organisation design for teams (think, for instance, performance management and rewards and recognition), prioritising team development (that is, a process or methodology with technologies, tools, roles and practices) as a strategic capability, and growing great team leaders and team players.


Find out more about our Team Development offerings here.