Engage Energize Evolve

October 24, 2006

Teams - to work or not to work?

It goes back to school days when we would be separated from our best friend in class by the mandatory monthly shuffing of seats. Then came University, where project teams would be picked by our professors, lest we end up choosing our own friends. In every training I attend or take, some amount of time is always spent shuffling participant groups, lest people become comfortable with those sitting around their table.

“Don’t work in your silos”is what they are all essentially trying to say.

On her blog Evolving Ideas, Astha asks a very pertinent question – If silos foster greater team bonding skills and connectivity, then why do organizations resist their formations? She quotes examples of seating arrangements that play a role in building or curbing the formation of silos, both functional and non-functional.

Here’s my take:

Infrastructure in general, and seating in particular is a physical symbol of an organization’s culture. However, and I’ve said this
before, by itself it has no meaning.

What gives it meaning is employee experience.

For example, in the personal growth labs run by ISISD all participants & the facilitator sit on the floor to form a circle. There is a definite advantage in this kind of seating – all are one level playing field, there is an intimacy and closeness in the room that permits sharing, and this is in line with their principle of “learning through living” vis-à-vis “learning through theory”. Having said that, this seating only provides the context for change. For someone (like me) who has been unable to internalize the principles that the lab stood for, the seating had zero impact in triggering change.

I’m a firm believer in teams, cross functional or otherwise.

I’ve seen value in involving people who may seem like outsiders to your area, but end up giving you perspectives you may never ever have thought of. I also believe that two heads put together is anyday more powerful than just one head working.

So Yay to team work – but Nay to Exclusion.

Team work becomes counter productive when it fosters outgroup homogeneity, creates entry barriers, and promotes exclusion.

So how can we ensure this does not happen?

By being inclusive while being part of different teams.

This means respect for people, acceptance of different viewpoints, acknowledging the role of conflict in any process, and a willingness to learn from others. Quite a handful actually, but crucial nevertheless.

Another way of looking at this – organizations should encourage formation of networks – which are open, and allow for many interactions, and discourage formation of silos – which are watertight compartments.

Thanks Astha, for triggering off this post!


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