Are you currently a group or a team?

Have you discussed which to be, together?

Which do you want/need to be?

Here, red10‘s Will Sudworth shares one of  red10‘s  3 Team Effectiveness Philosophies based on the research into two very different models of how to work together.

Who on earth is that?

The team had been together now for 3 months. Their meeting had started at 9am. At 11am, having flown halfway around the world, in walked a stranger called James, who took a seat claiming to be a member of the team, thus rendering the rest of the room bemused and not a little unsettled. This was the first time they had any knowledge of this ‘extra team member’.

This really did happen to one of our clients!

If you work in a large organisation, almost undoubtedly in cross-functional teams, you’ll know how easily this can happen.

Yet even in smaller organisations, or with, ostensibly, straightforward teams, a few simple questions can highlight ambiguity about team membership. For example:

  • Is Andy, the admin, on the team or not?
  • Gemma reports directly to the team lead yet her job is very different to everything else the team does. Is she on the team?
  • Is Farah still on the team, even though she is gradually reducing her days per week, in a planned way leading up to her retirement?

Do answering these questions really matter?

If you are investing in being a team, rather than a group, then yes – answering these questions does matter.

Note that it is “answering these questions” and creating clarity that matters, not what the content of the answer is.

Whilst we’re on this topic, this may surprise you: some of the most healthy and effective teams answer all three questions with “no, they aren’t on the team”.

Why does answering these questions matter?

Katzenbach & Smith, in their classic research published in The Wisdom of Teams, proposed that there are two very different ways of leading a collective of people.

  1.  “Hub and Spoke” is the easiest way to lead, were the only relationships that really matter are between the leader and individuals, i.e. no-one is asking for the individuals to invest in the relationships between each other. If you were to observe a meeting, you would expect to easily spot the leader as they will be speaking the most, with the meeting being a very effective use of their time to get all the answers and agreements they need. Katzenbach & Smith found that ‘hub & spoke’ is the most effective way to lead a group.
  2. Whilst it takes more investment, Katzenbach & Smith found the “Spider’s Web” model is the most effective way to lead a team, and has a much higher performance than a group can ever have. Various studies, from Kornferry through to CCL, show teams as having up to a 30% increase in performance.In the “Spider’s Web”, every relationship between every member of the team really matters.

There’s one important note to add to these two models, though…

In later research by Katzenbach & Smith – added to by our red10 experience – whilst the best teams use the web the majority of the time, they deliberately use hub-and-spoke for roughly 20% of their work. They choose hub-and-spoke for crises or for tasks that are high risk and need the team leader to be at the front.

Yet more research

Relatively recent research by MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory has been equipping thousands of individuals with wearable electronic sensors and collecting data on their interactions with others. Amongst a treasure-trove of findings, they discovered that the best predictor of a team’s success was linked to:

  • team-members talking in equal measure in meetings (with short and sweet contributions)
  • energy and engagement outside of meetings, with team-members connecting directly with one another— not just with the team leader.

Benefits of Hub-and-Spoke vs Web

In red10, we’ve found it important for the group or team to discuss which model they want to use, and why – and then choose to work in that way.

Katzenbach & Smith found that when some people think you’re working hub-and-spoke, and others believe you’re working web, then you can end up in the “valley of despair” with a lower performance than if you chose one model or the other.

What benefits do you see, of each model?

Some of the most commonly stated downsides for being a hub-and-spoke group are:

  • Performance being limited by how many hours in the day that the leader wishes to work, i.e. there’s a bottleneck inherent in this model
  • How everything would stop if the leader gets knocked down by the metaphorical bus
  • How the leader can become the middle-person for passing messages, slowing down communication and sometimes fueling misunderstandings

What other downsides for hub-and-spoke do you notice?

What upsides to hub-and-spoke are there?

What downsides and upsides do you see in the Spider’s Web?

How could your team have the best of spider’s web AND hub-and-spoke?

Investing in Spider’s Web

In red10, we’ve found a great way to make the Spider’s Web work…it’s to decide you want to, and then to invest in red10’s Team Satellites, based on the excellent published research of Professor Hackman.

Remember our Stranger, James?

Remember James, who the team thought of as a stranger yet had flown halfway round the world to be with them?

Why was it important to know whether James was on the team? Because they wanted to be a team and build relationships between each and every person, equally.

And then they wanted to invest in their team journey together.

So what does this mean for you?

Are you a group or a team?

What investment does your team need/want to make?