Can a team be ‘too strong’? It’s not the kind of question leaders ask, but it’s a question that should be considered. Strength can be a weakness if it is at the expense of the wider organization and its mission.
Joseph Grenny uses the phrase “tribalism trumps mission”, which is what happens if managers see their job as building ‘my team’ as opposed to building ‘the team’. It’s about seeing the bigger picture and connecting with it, instead of creating individual empires or tribes.
The irony lies in the fact that tribes aren’t necessarily a negative thing. Seth Godin argues that tribalism is in our nature. “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.” It sounds like a strong team to me; a collection of individuals that form a cohesive whole, moving in the same direction, with the same ultimate aim. But there’s a balance to be struck between building a great team and making people understand and feel good about contributing to the big picture.
In an article on Harvard Business Review, Grenny provides advice on ‘tribe versus team’ in the form of four questions. I’ve abridged them as ‘this – not that’ here.
- Describes team goals as means, not ends. A team understands how their tasks connect with the wider purpose; they don’t just operate in an independent bubble.
- Frames its budget and resources as stewardship, not property. For example, a team that finds itself with extra money at the end of the financial year will offer it to other teams in need, instead of finding ways to spend it.
- Refers to people outside the team as teammates, not competitors.
- Is in free contact with people outside the team, not monitored.
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