The Strategic Value of Teams

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Senior leadership, reacting to changing demands from the marketplace, is looking for faster, better ways to solve problems, open new markets, and grow business. One effective strategy is to tear down silos within the organization in order to be more responsive to clients and new prospects. Working on a team isn't easy, but it beats working alone, both for the individual and for the organization. Cohesive teams increase employee morale, happiness, and retention - and offer additional benefit as well. Here are just five reasons why investing in team cohesion and effectiveness builds the bottom line.

Teams negate the "bus factor." The bus factor applies to any project that could come to a complete halt because of illness, turnover, maternity leave, vacation, etc. - in other words, the equivalent of being "hit by a bus." With teams, projects can still move forward when setbacks occur; nothing stops if one person drops out for any reason. Work can be redistributed and the deadline is not in danger.

Teams learn more. If one person learns something "in the forest" of a project, and no one else knows what he or she learned, does it matter? Clearly, it can matter very much to the individual learner, but does the organization benefit? That is less clear. If an entire team learns new skills while working on a project, however, there is a very great opportunity for the organization to benefit as many people use the new skills again and again going forward. Efficiency is a bottom-line builder.

Teams can complete more projects.  When an individual works on a project the equivalent of two months over a year it takes a long time to complete, which can lead to disappointment and lower morale. A team working on the same project can generate excitement and higher engagement because of the opportunity to complete the work more quickly and to take on additional projects.

The highs are higher and the lows aren't as low when working on a team. Working alone in a "project bog" can drain the energy out of an individual. That same "bog" may spark innovation on a team or at least may drive support for one another to get through to the next project phase. Patting yourself on the back works for a few people, but not many. High fives and cheers are heard frequently as teams accomplish smaller milestones on the way to the ultimate project goal. Teams can more easily keep momentum going both on good days and bad.

Teams increase individual accountability. Long projects, or even short but difficult projects, affect day-to-day motivation whether you work alone or on a team. For many people, working alone provides a too-easy excuse to delay, cancel, or otherwise avoid the less pleasurable aspects of a project. Peer pressure is a powerful force that can get team members to press on, make one more call, push through bad weather to get to a meeting, or stay in a meeting until disagreements are ironed out or a new approach is developed. 

The fallacy of ideal team size is that there is no such thing as the ideal team size. Teams can be as few as two people or as many as seven. Most organizations keep teams to single-digit numbers but that depends on the complexity of the project and length of time available. In any event, a cohesive team will outperform a hardworking individual any day.

Nancy S. Ahlrichs, is business development consultant for FlashPoint, a global talent development consulting firm.

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