Why a strong team is greater than the sum of it’s parts


It is widely understood that TRUST among team members is a basic requirement for any strong team. In “The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team,” Patrick Lencioni describes trust as the foundation of the teamwork pyramid that supports all other team dynamics. Without trust, attention ultimately becomes displaced onto the individual’s goal rather than the team goal. Team members avoid making commitments to each other or holding each other accountable for performance and results.

Trust is a bit of an intangible, however, so what is the key to building trust?

A recent article in Business Day argues that businesses that, in addition to attracting quality employees, also focus on building a culture of teamwork, will achieve more than would be predicted from the quality of the people alone. Goldman Sachs and McKinsey and the Liverpool Football (soccer) Club provide good examples. The secret of these organizations is to set expectations and incentives to support teamwork rather than individualized performance.

But their main explanation of Liverpool’s relative success came from a simple economic model of the game of football. A player can kick for goal or pass the ball to a player better situated. His choice will depend on the degree to which his incentives relate to the performance of the team, rather than his performance as an individual, and on his expectations about whether the next player will shoot or pass in turn.

Because an individual’s behaviour depends on expectations of the behaviour of others, teams will become locked into particular states. Individuals joining a team will find it best to conform to the local style, so these equilibriums are stable.

In most teams, as in football, individuals often face the choice of passing the ball to a teammate who is better situated to succeed, or to kick the ball themselves. The proverbial ball could be a sales presentation, a key assignment, an idea for innovation. etc. Trust occurs when the individual has the expectation that their teammates will take actions that will most benefit the team.

To achieve this level of trust, team leaders must ensure that incentives are aligned with team goals. The good news is that once trust is achieved, new entrants to the team will have incentives to adopt the existing culture, and to strive to meet the expectations entrusted to them.

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5 Responses to Why a strong team is greater than the sum of it’s parts

  1. […] Why a strong team is greater than the sum of it’s parts […]

  2. Karl Clifford says:

    The correct spelling is:
    The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

    Why a strong team is greater than the sum of it’s parts « Stronger …

  3. Hey, I just wanted to say what a quality website. I really enjoyed it and found it fascinating reading. Looking forward to your next post!

  4. Paul says:

    Don’t mean to be pedantic, but the article doesn’t address the title at all. This article is about encouraging team behaviour, not about why a strong team is greater thatn the sum of its parts.

    Also, it’s a nice cliche, but it’s more accurate to say that a team can achieve things that the parts separated could not. Five individuals working one at a time will never move a 500kg log, but the same five working together will get the job done. Doesn’t mean the team is more than the sum of its parts, just that they can do more combined..

  5. […] recently discussed how team leaders need to align incentives to achieve a high level of trust among teams which, in […]

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