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TEAMING: Hybrid Teams and Why They Gain Greater Engagement, Idea Generation and Buy-In For Decisions

Deborah-Mackin-2013-NewDireLisa and I were discussing a team training recently for a highly technical organization when an interesting dilemma emerged.  They call their project teams, teams; they call their project leaders, team leaders.  Yet, the amount of actual teamwork going on is minimal.  The team is accountable to the team leader; the team leader makes all the decisions; the team leader role is never shared.  So, when they attended our training, participants struggled with the “true” definition of a team, compared to what they were calling a team.

We use the definition developed by Jon Katzenbach and Doug Smith in Wisdom of Teams with a little twist of our own:  a small group of people with complementary skills and abilities committed to a common goal (and approach – our addition) and willing to hold each other accountable. In training we compare the definition of a team to that of a group, so that people can see the difference clearly.  A group is defined as a small group of people committed to a leader’s goal and approach and willing to be held accountable to the leader.  As an organization whose majority of work comes from military contracts in a classical top-down structure, the possibility of true “teaming” is quite remote, so the question becomes:  are there other options for teaming that might be explored for this type of organization?

Typical Types of Teams
Let’s take a step back for a moment and identify the typical types of teams in organizations.  We begin with the multi-functional team that crosses over various functions (i.e., production, sales, customer service, quality) but includes members from various levels within the organization.  These are typically design or policy-making teams.  Cross-functional teams are composed of people from similar levels, but crossing over various functions.  These are typically problem-solving, project teams or kaizen teams with specific goals and time requirements.  Within a department, we might see either functional teams focused on projects specific to the function, or self-directed or semi-autonomous teams who take on supervisory functions within the department and oversee their own specific unit of work.    Add to these some other high performance teaming options like Tiger Teams, “firefighting” experts designated to examine, investigate and/or solve a particular problem in a finite amount of time.   They have also been used to find new and innovative solutions to problems perceived by many as insolvable.  And some months ago, we wrote about fluid teams, experts from disparate functions and geographies who must get a temporary project or task up and running, sometimes with completely different priorities, beliefs, languages and values. The Water Cube project at the Beijing Olympics was such a team with dozens of people from 20 disciplines and four countries.

The Involvement-Engagement-Empowerment Continuum
All teams move on a continuum from involvement to engagement to empowerment; even self-directed teams in their early formation are not fully empowered until they are highly competent and highly committed.

bmw-x6-hybrid-photos-311Introducing the Hybrid Team
So to this plethora of teaming options, we thought we’d propose adding one more:  the hybrid team, a combination of a traditional group with some specific teaming behaviors in order to gain greater engagement, idea generation and buy-in to the decisions.  As we discussed this option, certain characteristics emerged:

  • The hybrid team’s goals are predefined either by the project sponsor or team leader with little or no room for negotiation.  The goals are introduced to the team via the charter in early discussions.
  • The project or team leader defines the approach to achieving the goals, reviewing the plan with the team and gathering input for consideration.
  • The team is held accountable to the team leader and/or team sponsor, who solicits feedback from the team about individual member effectiveness.
  • The team has increased responsibility for running team meetings with the team leader modeling initial facilitative behavior and then identifying strong team members to assume responsibility as the team progresses.
  • The team progresses on the involvement to engagement continuum, especially with increased utilization of core team members as subject matter experts and back-ups to the team leader
  • Team decision making focuses on process decisions related to planning, communication, problem solving and team dynamics; the team leader makes decisions on project content/tasks.
  • The team leader is considered the mediator for conflict unlike a true team where team members are expected to address conflicts between each other before going to leadership

With this hybrid option in mind, the team combines a traditional leadership model for the project with a number of teaming effectiveness elements related to process functions.  The caution here is to make the boundary lines very clear and transparent from the beginning, so that team members do not assume they will “earn” additional authorities as they progress.  The hybrid model would not encourage progression in teaming capability, as high performance would be limited to strong group performance – in a traditional manner – rather than a progression to empowerment we see in the forming-storming-norming-performing model.

Share Your Thoughts
So, share with us your thoughts and experiences on this hybrid team idea and whether you think it would work or not.  Does it compromise the true definition of teaming too much, or is it a solution for traditional organizations who really won’t change their authority structures and yet want to see some teaming effectiveness in the mix?


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