Teamwork: “The larger the group, the more often unbridled centers of power form”

Teamwork: “The larger the group, the more often unbridled centers of power form”

Teamwork “The larger the group, the more often unbridled centers of power form”

Not every department is a team. Career expert Svenja Hofert explains what is important for good teamwork, the maximum size of these groups and why top dogs are harmful.

WirtschaftsWoche: Ms. Hofert, why does teamwork fail so often?
Svenja Hofert: The question is whether it is really a team. Groups that are simply thrown together loosely, for example entire departments, are often referred to as a team. Many companies cling to outdated structures that can be depicted in simple organizational charts. That’s wrong thinking from the point of view of the system.

What exactly is a team?
The team is a form of small group working on something that can only come about together. A real team always has a common focus, pursues a common, clearly defined goal. When different specialists with heterogeneous interests come together, this is the cooperation of a group, not teamwork. Because they may share an interest in advancing the company, but not in creating a joint product.

So is there a maximum number of members a team should have?
Nine is the upper limit. But a team can also consist of three people. If there are too many, it becomes increasingly difficult to find common ground and to ensure trust. The more people, the more naturally subgroups form.

And the group dynamics suffer?
Group dynamics are never good or bad. But it can happen that groupthink arises. As a result, people keep their knowledge and opinions to themselves. In return, innovations are quickly laughed at or those who think differently are rejected. This is dangerous in times of upheaval.

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So large groups inhibit resilience?
What’s more, the larger the group, the more unbridled centers of power form around guys striving for dominance. The smaller the group, the clearer the focus can be on the actual task. This is especially the case when there is passion in the task – and when the team members are collective and performance-oriented. Team development is important. That means the team has to learn to reflect on itself. Often there is no need for managers and supervisors to make decisions for the team. Selectively used moderators and team facilitators with knowledge of group dynamics are much more important

In what way?
If a team is really pursuing a common goal, it actually no longer needs classic leadership in which the manager makes the decisions. The goal alone leads. Instead of tasks, it is about responsibility for topics – and with these well-trained employees, this is spread over several shoulders. All that is then needed are the structures to achieve the goal.

But then superiors must be willing to hand over responsibility.
That’s one of the biggest problems. But you shouldn’t approach the conversion naively and think that it will all be done in six weeks. It’s not about simply putting ideas from the agile context over everything. It is primarily about empowerment. When forming teams, it must be analyzed in detail: How can they work as concentrated and autonomously as possible on their topic and develop further in the process?

How exactly can you go about doing this?
It’s best to try it out with one or two teams. And with people who already take on a lot of responsibility. A defined area of ​​responsibility is ideal, for example a specific project or customer service, where there is direct feedback from the market.

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So a manager could first break up a department that is too large into teams?
I would look at this less in terms of people and more in terms of themes. Where is value created? Who is the customer – also the internal customer? The closer to the market, the clearer it can be what is at stake. This also has the advantage that a team can then concentrate on a specific goal and requirements. It must also be allowed to have idle times. When teams are confused with departments, people are often 80 or 90 percent occupied with tasks that have nothing to do with their area of ​​responsibility.

Like meetings in which you basically have no business.
Meetings are the best way to achieve the most quickly: by eliminating unnecessary appointments, limiting the number of participants, focusing the meeting on one aspect, such as planning, deciding, thinking creatively or evaluating. The question is: Who is really needed for this topic?

But isn’t it important that teams are networked with each other, because otherwise colleagues hardly have any direct contact?
Of course, the teams must be connected to the organization. But if there is too much communication, motivation and performance decrease. It’s like a meeting that’s too big, where in the end nobody feels addressed and challenged.

Or where introverts get lost particularly easily.
Small teams are also an advantage here. Because introverts have no problem speaking up in front of a few people. The question should always be: At which points is it really necessary for an exchange to take place?

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Does a supervisor then have to belong to each of the small teams?
No, just the opposite. Then the manager would soon be completely exhausted. Managers at departmental level should primarily be concerned with what is happening on the market and which strategies will help the company move forward. You should design the playing field, but not play it yourself. It must also be clear what a goal is and what the rules are. Personally, I don’t think much of managers as coaches in the sense of coaching. But very much about empowering people to do things. I would always rather work on structures than try to re-educate people. That cannot work.

Can I also belong to several teams if I have different areas of responsibility?
Sure, but keep the number as low as possible. If you sit in ten teams, you lose focus. It’s also conceivable that I don’t belong to any team at all. But that can be a social question if there is no contact with colleagues after all. Teams are not a necessary part in an organizational chart. They can also exist informally – and dissolve again.

also read: How to build the ideal team

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