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There’s no "I" in Team (but There is in Collaboration)

I had the privilege recently of participating in a group learning exercise facilitated by a former chief learning officer who has launched a new business dedicated to the effectiveness of teams. The facilitator pointed out that it’s not uncommon for the typical active professional to have membership on 12-to-15 different teams in their public and private lives.

Another friend and successful entrepreneur is also launching a new venture that helps organizations create and sustain more effective teams. And earlier this month, a global pharmaceutical manufacturer asked me to present content to a collective team of high potentials chartered on innovation and strategy for their global sales organization. This team is newly formed, its members finding their way, wanting to make an impact, and yearning to understand the key elements of what makes an effective team.

In the old economy world, you heard less about teams and more about organizational charts. Even today, many companies spend an inordinate amount of time making sure the org chart is correct, however that’s defined. But when you really look at the physical image of an org chart, you observe that it is hierarchal, linear, siloed, disintegrated, and focused on position and power. While the org chart and the word “team” are still closely associated in the language of business, the org chart is a rather poor illustration of what constitutes an effective team in today’s business environment.

With due credit to Professor Rob Cross at Babson University, and a member of i4cp’s thought leader community, we should think of an effective team more like a social network than an organizational chart. In a social network, the notion of who is the leader is much different—it becomes more about who is most capable and impactful, and much less about who is most powerful.

In a social network-type team, there is group cohesion held together by a defined purpose or mission, attached to an outcome that is emotionally and spiritually moving. In a social network-type team, i4cp’s research (to be released starting this May) in partnership with Cross, has found that there is collaboration and sharing in order to achieve a “we did it” outcome, quite the opposite from an org chart model where knowledge is hoarded for the purpose of seeking an individual reward.

Several years ago, I had an experience of bringing together a team for a very specific purpose. Positionally, it was clear to everyone I was the leader, but functionally, two or three other players (several steps below my pay grade) became the most important cogs in the wheel. They brought business acumen, professionalism, capability, and perseverance to the task at hand, and we became hinged to one another as a network of skilled practitioners built for a common purpose. Some contributed more than others, but we never lost sight of the “we” in team. We worked hard, we collaborated, had fun, played, and we became a model of effective teaming that others wanted to replicate.

Instead of org chart, think organizational network. Instead of the private office, think social interaction. Instead of hoarding, think collaboration and knowledge sharing. Instead of competition, think cohesion. Think and practice “we” in all your teams.

Mark Englizian, former CHRO, Walgreens Co., and Global Leader for Total Rewards with Amazon, is Chair of the i4cp Total Rewards Leader Board.