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For Managers: How to use Networks in Team Development (the temporary organization)

Team Development

Developing a truly cohesive team is probably one of the most challenging tasks a typical manager will face throughout her career (hey, sorry but we get a little into advanced statistics in this post. Please bear with it). The challenges in team development are numerous, including things like:

  • employees not getting along
  • lack of coordination and communication between new and sometimes tenured team members
  • political game-play and power collection
  • lack of skill/role integration

Now a team could be a as small as 2 members or as large as a hundred or so. Teams by definition are project oriented, meaning they come together for a purpose and generally speaking they disperse on project completion, which makes them a special case of a typical organizations. Basically, they are a temporary organization; But, that also means that they follow the same rules that apply to larger organizations, which we’ll define – permanent organizations (though nothing is permanent peeps!!!!)

One of the ways we can sense and prepare for team development is to conduct an organizational/social network survey. (I won’t get into how, since I’ve already written about it here multiple times). And, when it comes to team development surveys, results tend to sometimes indicate that the team is too rigid or too structured, but the surveys themselves do not offer any solutions to solving this issue. What I mean by rigidity of course is formality in a sense and lack collaboration in another.

Team-building literature suggests that the most successful way to build an effective team is to build commitment to a specific goal and then to rely on the best possible talent to schedule large amounts of structured meetings to help the flow of information and to make decisions as needed. However, much of the literature carries an inherent assumption that more communication is better; there is no emphasis on the measurement of either the quality of the information or the relevance of the knowledge that is flowing. Additionally, the literature provides no or little concrete ways to measure the relative value contributed by each micro communication to the goal or project at hand. In my opinion, it is just assumed that if you communicate enough, things will happen – probably on some normally distributed probability function like a Poisson, Gaussian or a Stigler.

Why is that ineffective? Well, when your resources are limited this doesn’t make sense. I’d rather know which of the communication and collaboration transaction are going to be of more value to the project goal and the team, then I want to maximize those to get more bang for my buck. I don’t want everyone just willy nilly talking and attempting to collaborate (and often failing to produce results). I want the , let’s call it “good communication” to be maximized and minimize all the non-value adding stuff.

When a team leader is able to map the networks of the her temporary organization (remember, we defined the team to be a temporary organization), she can measure, precisely, where the information needs to go, and whether it has relative value to the project at hand by ensuring that the right experts in the network are being used for the right team collaborations. If she does this she can also ensure that communication levels are kept at a minimal effective level in order to ensure that the maximum level of value for the least possible cost is delivered ( see Cross, Parker, &  Borgatti, 2002 for some empirics on this). Again, the goal here isn’t to maximize collaboration and communication as a tool of team development just for the sake of it. The goal is usually under-time, under-budget, and over-deliver.

One solution is to hire a consultant to try to create a “participative” team – which I’m still hazy on what that actually means. Isn’t a team by definition a participative entity? One trend that has hampered (I like that word!) the opportunity for temporary organizations to create better and more effective teams is that the consulting industry that specializes in team productivity, efficiency, and collaboration has taken a heavy emphasis on consensus and participative leadership. But all that means to me, is a soft approach to the same problem which we’ve been discussing up until now. Participative teams carry an assumption that everyone’s value is equal, and all we have to do is get everyone to be friends for it to come out. this is proven to be a false assumption. There is more value at certain nodes/actors/people on the team than there is at others, and the only way to find it is to do a network survey and find who it is.

Not to mention that to create a participative team and one that values any and all collaboration reduces the ability of that team to be highly effective in the execution of their ideas. they’ll likely spend their time only collaborating without emphasis on eventual execution, which why we create temporary organizations to begin with – reaching a specific goal. After all, collaboration takes time and innovation tends to be messy, and if the end result that is targeted is innovation, then by nature the team is inefficient.

Generally, the prevalent companies of the human resources consulting and management consulting industries tend to omit solutions to tackle the loss of efficiency when they’re aiming to increase collaboration—they simply accept the premise that the loss in productivity and efficiency will occur as a byproduct of all the wasteful collaboration that will take place. Taking the network perspective on the organization means you don’t have to settle for that waste!

The network perspective provides detailed measurement of collaboration levels as measured against efficiency levels, so that the leader may make the decision, according to her or his business requirements on how to balance the two ( see Behrend & Erwee, 2009 for an example).

Targeted investments in relationships outperformed those who simply build ever larger networks” ( see Cross & Thomas, 2009) and so for a team leader/manager that aims to make direct connections with change agents and culture influencers he should consider precise investments into communication networks and social fabric of the organization and not a carpet bombing approach. For team leaders who want to change culture and take on a new business initiative, or improve the collaboration, communication, and innovation of their temporary organization, network analysis can provide the map, and therefore the blueprint, on where and how to make those connections.

About The Author
Joseph A.E. Shaheen
Computational Social Scientist. Former Consultant. I fought ISIS/ISIL/Daesh in my own way. Livin' life in Washington, DC

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