This Harvard Business Review article is a goldmine of truth about common issues that teams can suffer from.

Here are some of the key points:

Research consistently shows that teams underperform, despite all the extra resources they have. That’s because problems with coordination and motivation typically chip away at the benefits of collaboration.

This is particularly true in teams that feature degrees of self-direction or self-organisation. With a rigid heirarchy of clearly-defined roles and responsibilities, you can control coordination and communication, but this level of organisation is typically only seen in the military.

Most of us don't have a Drill Sergeant to make us scrub the floor with a toothbrush if we don't manage to complete a task. And most team leaders don't want to take on that role or style of management. Or at least I hope not!

Instead, to stay effective as teams we need to find more sustainable ways of improving coordination and motivation.

Growing pains

It's unlikely that this will be very surprising, but as team size grows, it gets harder to work effectively together:

Another fallacy is that bigger teams are better than small ones because they have more resources to draw upon. A colleague and I once did some research showing that as a team gets bigger, the number of links that need to be managed among members goes up at an accelerating, almost exponential rate. It’s managing the links between members that gets teams into trouble.

As a team grows in size, it becomes more difficult to ensure that everyone in the team feels as "connected" to the team, because the team itself becomes more nebulous.

In the software world, once a team grows to double digits, it becomes easier to think of ourselves principally as member of the "development" team, or the "design" team, rather than a member of the diverse, larger group that are all important interaction parts that must work together to deliver the best product possible.

The larger the team, the more predisposed we are to start identifying ourselves by what makes us different from other people in the team, instead of what makes us similar.

It also becomes harder to make sure that everyone in the team is communicating effectively with everyone else. Communication within a team isn't a virtue in-and-of-itself, but it's vital when a group of people are trying to achieve a goal that requires everyone's unique skills to be employed in tandem.

Without good communication, it's easy to become 'siloed': inadvertantly isolated from other parts of the team. This isolation leads to communication problems. Once one member or sub-group starts pulling in a different direction from the rest, this can cause friction and the sense of a "coherent team working together towards a clear goal" is further eroded.

It's pretty clear that working in a team isn't always easy!

Your team can avoid these problems

Unfortunately, it may not always possible to constrain team size to ideal numbers, and it may not possible to guarantee effective and open communication between all the members within a team. These are simply aspects of human nature, played out in an organisational setting.

However, all is not lost! An effective way to counteract these problems is to encourage a stronger sense of a single team.

We can do this by minimising the differences between different members or groups within the team, and emphasising the goals and shared challenges you have in common. We can make it a part of our culture to work together and share responsibilities across the whole team.

And that's exactly what Harmonia can help your team do.