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At most organizations, employees are urged to be team players. But this raises an essential question: What kind of a team are they on? It might seem like a silly thing to ask. “It’s the kind of team that helps fulfill the mission of our organization,” you might say.
While this is certainly true, or it should be, teams actually tend to fall into one of four common types. Identifying precisely what type of team you’re running can help you better set objectives, communicate more clearly, build on strengths and shore up weaknesses.
The 4 Team Types
Determining a team's category is based on the degree of need for specialization and coordination.
Type 1: Swim TeamSwim teams typically have a lot of specialization. For example, one team member specializes in the crawl stroke and backstroke while another specializes in the butterfly stroke and breaststroke. As a result, their need for coordination in order to be a high-performing team is low.
In a work team, there can also be several specialties. An information technology team might have members whose individual skill sets—like website, operations, user support, software and hardware—support each other. However, they don't need to synchronize all their tasks to succeed.
Type 2: Football TeamA football team has a high need for both specialization and coordination. It needs regular huddles so every team member knows what they're doing and how they'll interact with each other. A football team usually has a head coach and then assistant coaches with special skills.
In workplaces, this type of team could be an emergency veterinary hospital staff or a software product development team. Most executive leadership teams are football teams as well.
Type 3: Bowling TeamMembers of bowling teams share the same technical skills. But their success requires minimal need to work directly together or coordinate their work. Law firms and accounting firms are great examples of bowling teams.
Type 4: Volleyball TeamVolleyball teams have the same universal skills, like bowling teams, but members must coordinate with each other to be effective. These teams are cross-trained to perform all tasks or jobs. In the workplace, examples include manufacturing assembly teams, staff at animal shelters and retail sales teams.
Of course, not every team will fit perfectly into one of these types. Some might be hybrids, depending on the work they perform and the strategic objectives of the organization. Nonetheless, these categories can be helpful guidance as leaders seek to properly distribute the work, define roles and responsibilities, train team members and manage their performance.
How To Best Support Your Team Type's Performance
The goal of any leader is to produce a high-performing team. While these productive and efficient teams share certain characteristics—mutual accountability, well-defined authority around decision-making and shared performance goals—there are important distinctions that leaders must recognize. If you take a one-size-fits-all approach to developing your team, it can lead to problems like poor performance, an inability to work together productively and disillusionment. Identifying your group's team type won't automatically turn your members into high performers, but it can help you provide the right level of care and support.
For example, if you have a football team, it usually makes sense to have short, daily meetings to communicate objectives and coordinate the day’s activities. But for a bowling team, that kind of regular meeting would be overkill; they may need only a short weekly meeting to make announcements, discuss issues and maintain esprit de corps. Leaders of swim teams should focus more on clear roles and creating "swim lanes" and handoffs for the work people are performing. Volleyball team leaders, on the other hand, must ensure everyone has the same skill set and can perform tasks equally well so responsibilities can rotate fluidly.
No matter what type of team you’re running, don't expect it to quickly reach the highest level of performance right away. Your team will likely need to undergo a multi-stage development process. In my next article, I'll discuss four stages—forming, storming, norming, and performing—that were introduced by psychologist Bruce Tuckman in 1965 and still hold true today.
Lynda Silsbee is Founder and President of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration. She has spent more than 30 years creating and leading high performance teams. Along with the other LEAP Certified Coaches, she reports that helping managers make the LEAP to leader is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her work.