Sunday, February 22, 2015

Reducing Teamicide with Lightning Bolt shaped Teams

Teamicide is the act of purposefully disbanding a team after they are done with a task or project.  While this may not sound particularly negative at first glance, an organization loses the benefit of achieving team productivity and team cohesion each time they disband a team.  When team’s form, they take time to gel as a team. This is an organizational investment that often isn't realized.

To gain some perspective, let’s take a moment to review Tuckman's model that discusses the gelling process.  Established by Bruce Tuckman in 1965, this model has four sequential phases (e.g., Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing) that teams go through to effectively function as a unit, know each other's strengths, self-organize around the work, with optimal flow, and reduced impediments.  In relation to teamicide, if a team hasn't yet achieved the performing state, they will have invested in the time and team building effort without actually gaining the benefits of a performing team.   The irony is that while companies focus a lot on return on investment (ROI) in relation to the product, they inadvertently achieve no ROI since they disband teams and not allowing them to achieve performing.  
The next question is, why does management disband teams?  Do they not understand the harm they are doing to their organization when they disband teams?  Do they not respect the benefits of a performing team?  Or maybe they apply a move the team to the work method, when they really should be applying a move work to the team method.  Exploring the “move team to the work” method, this may occur because either there is a “form a team around a project” mindset or there is a belief that teams don’t have all of the skills or disciplines needed to handle the new types of work.   

So how do we solve this problem and gain the most from performing teams?  The first change that must be made is to move to (or experiment with) applying the “move work to the team” method.   This assumes that we have teams that have the skills and disciplines to handle a variety of work.  Therefore, the second change is to invest in building Lightning Bolt shaped teams. These are teams where each team member has a primary skill, a secondary skill, and even a tertiary skill

The shape of a lightening bolt has one spike going deep (primary skill) and at least 2 additional spikes of lessor depth (secondary and tertiary).   The purpose of having various depths of skills is for the team to be able to handle a broad range of work and for team members to be able to step up and fill gaps that other team members may not have or need help with.  Note: some have used the term “T-shaped” teams, but I find that the lightning bolt shape is more apropos to the several spikes of skills and the various depths that are needed.  

To create a lightning bolt shaped team, takes an investment in education.  This takes a commitment to educate each team member in both a secondary and tertiary skill.  As an example, let’s say that a developer has a primary skill of programming code.  As a secondary skill, they can also learn how to build database schemas and as a tertiary skill, they can write unit tests and run test cases.  The long-term benefit is that if the team members can develop additional skills, there is a greater likelihood that a team can work on a much wider range of work and then they can be kept together allowing the organization to gain the benefits of a high performing team.   This can reduce teamicide and increase the organization’s ability to produce more high quality product.

Have you seen teamicide occurring in your organization?  Have you seen the benefit of allowing a team to remain together long enough to become a high performing team?  If so, what level of skills were or are prevalent on the team?