A metaphor for teamworking

Excellent metaphor for teamworking at the I’ve Got Something to Say About That… blog. Hadley uses tessellations to discuss team composition and how team members adapt to one another. Here’s an excerpt:

Coherent team with newbieA well-organised team with clear ways of working together and expectations for each other. While the new person, in black, will have to adapt to fit into the team, they should have a fairly easy time of it due to the clarity in the existing team.

In contrast, this picture below shows a chaotic team with no coherence. The new person has no idea how the members are working together, let alone how to join them. The best he/she can do is to pick an outside edge (anybody’s!) and start there, try to connect with everyone in due course and build up a shape of their own to fit the odd structure already there. If you’re the new person, it’s a much less fun scenario.

Crazy team with newbie A team with no coherence or organisation, attempting to incorporate a new person. This scenario is hard for the newcomer, as the team’s ways of working are unclear and even communication between the existing members doesn’t appear to be guaranteed. How should the newcomer adapt themselves?

Hadley’s post provides a good perspective on the experience of new members joining existing teams. New team members can begin contributing quickly when it is fairly obvious how they fit into the existing structure. However, if teams resemble a scrambled jigsaw puzzle, it will be hard for new members to find their place.

Read the entire post here.

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3 Responses to A metaphor for teamworking

  1. Steve says:

    I’ve been thinking about this, and I think being the new person will be difficult in any case. Even in a team that works well together the new person completely changes the dynamics. The real difference is that a team that works well together will be more efficient and effective than a team that doesn’t work well together. In some cases disjointed teams are easier to join, because it can be just about the work, and not about fitting in. A group of people the works really well as a team can become close friends and have problems letting a new person in, even when qualified, because it changes things too much for them.

    I think the individual coming into the picture and what they are looking for will depend on how well they do. Someone that is not a people person and works well on his own, will do better in a disjointed team than in a well integrated team, while someone who relies on personal interaction will do much better in a good funcitoning team. If the new person is brought in with the right “fit” then he will not have a problem joining an existing team.

    I think the style of team does have a lot more to do with it’s success after losing a team member than it does with it’s integration of new members. A disjointed team does not communicate well and works independently. Losing a member in this environment is very hard on the rest of the team and leaves resentment, while a team that works well together can lose a member and just pick up the slack. Not that things won’t change and it’s not mentally difficult, but in my experience there is a lot less anger about the person who is gone.

  2. Thanks for the comments, Steve.

    You raise several good points. Integrating new team members will vary based on the unique circumstances created by the existing team, the new member, any recently departed members, and the tasks at hand. I have witnessed situations you describe in which it is hard for new members to fit into tight-knit teams. I even see differences in such teams.

    Some well functioning teams become that way because they excel at building strong relationships (relatively) quickly, communicating effectively, and having an awareness of the strengths and needs of others. A new member would likely succeed in this environment with little difficulty. Other close-knit teams have worked together for a long time, but may lack some of the “teamwork” factors just mentioned. It can be very difficult indeed for new members to integrate into such teams.

    Thinking about Hadley’s diagrams again, the big difficulty in the 2nd one is that the role the new member is so undefined. While each existing team member appears to be carrying their weight, there are many areas not covered. Should the new member try to fill the major void or should they fill in some of the spaces around other team members that do not seem to be covered? In general, a team like that will be less efficient and effective because team members will spend a good deal of time trying to ensure that nothing is missed, not being able to trust that the full spectrum of the team’s responsibilities are covered.

  3. […] factor in determining the success of a new team member (but it is an important one). For example, I discussed before how the existing team structure influences how quickly new members can begin to significantly […]

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