The trouble with teamwork

A well-functioning team is the most powerful competitive advantage. Regardless of the industry and the business model, a more effective team is bound to outperform its competition.

Yet, this goal remains elusive. Most teams are dysfunctional. This is because teams are made up of imperfect human beings. They are collections of different interests working towards a common goal. It is akin to driving a bus where each passenger has a steering wheel.

Most teams I have been part of were dysfunctional. Yet, in the handful that were the exception is where I have done some of my most fulfilling work.

Getting a team to function well is hard, but worth aspiring for. In most cases, the mission, the vision and even the quarterly goal is to merely get a team to function well.

Inspiration: The Five Dysfunctions of A Team

The curse of scale

The larger a team’s size, the more it needs to communicate.

When you scale up a team from a size of 6 developers to 12 developers, how much more communication work does this entail? On the surface, we are led to think that we need to communicate twice as much. However, 6 developers can communicate two at a time in 21 ways (6 x 7 / 2). If you scaled this team to 12 developers, that number shoots up to 78 (12 x 13 / 2). That is 6 times more communication channels than the smaller team.

When we double a team’s size, we expect productivity to double as well. However, given that communication work need by 6 times, the productivity gain is a lot slower. This led Fred Brooks to coin Brook’s law – adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.

Don’t steal problems

A healthy sign of a well functioning team is that its team members identify problems. When somebody points out a problem, they have merely uncovered some potential to improve.

Here’s the crucial bit – a good team environment helps people solve their own problems. The person with the problem is given the time and the resources to solve whatever is bothering them. The onus on solving the problem always lies with the person who raised it.

It is tempting to solve people’s problems for them. But when a person solves their own problem, they feel empowered and are more satisfied than if somebody else hands them a solution.

When somebody has a problem, don’t steal it. Instead, help them solve it.