Leading and Working in Teams

Academic, industry and government organizations are all dependent on work done by teams.   In her course, “Leading and Working in Teams,” Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business School describes what distinguishes a team that thrives from one that merely survives. 

Amy starts by explaining the difference between “Teams” and “Teaming.”  Teams are interdependent groups of people with clear membership working toward a shared goal.    As organizations grow and work at increasingly fast paces, teams become more fluid and interchangeable.  Therefore, teaming becomes key to the success of the company.  Teaming is essentially team work on the fly, requiring participants to continually take risks, fail and learn from those small failures.  

Risk taking is a crucial part of any high performing team.  However, most people are uncomfortable taking risks in a group for fear of public perception i.e. appearing unknowledgeable or arrogant.  In Amy’s research, she discovered that team members will take risks when they feel psychologically safe.   Leaders can create psychological safety within a team by framing the work as a learning challenge rather than an execution challenge, acknowledging their own fallibility and stressing the importance of input from team members.  These small mindset changes paired with compelling, high reaching goals create an environment for success.

Failure is another key for effective teaming and is often inevitable within groups of people.  Not all failures are the same and an expectation needs to be set about the level of failure acceptable in the team.  More importantly, the team needs to learn from each failure and act to avoid similar issues in the future. 

After being given permission to take risks and fail, it is now the responsibility of the individual team members to contribute, collaborate, experiment and reflect.   Each team member has a crucial role and will need to work effectively across boundaries to succeed.  Amy suggests building strong work relationships by asking questions related to the project goal and sharing personal answers to the same questions.    More information can be found in Amy’s book, Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate and Compete in the Knowledge Economy.  At the end of the course, Amy provides a list of additional resources to help establish leadership behaviors that promote effective teaming.