What built your team?

The origins of your team

If you are managing or working with a team, do you know its origins? Are you aware how it got built? Understanding the history of your team is one of the core factors in managing it well. Your attitude towards the team will be different based on its origin.

I distinguish two types of teams, based on their origin stories.

Teams built on allegiance

A team built on allegiance has followers committed to its leader. These followers were usually not recruited into the team based on their competency, but rather based on their willingness to accept the leadership of its leader. A big advantage of working with such a team is that they can usually execute a specific order to the letter. Within their specific boundaries, these people usually perform in an exemplary manner. They will not stray outside of their assigned boundaries, but will attack anyone trespassing into what they consider their territory.

These teams usually wither and die whenever the boss, who acts as a linchpin, is removed or severely weakened. Usually, they will support their linchpin up to the point they feel he cannot survive, at which point they will abandon their support and go look for another safe haven, with someone to lead them.

While it may seem I am dismissing this type of team, nothing could be further from the truth. In a structured, more mature environment these teams are essential to maintain the activities. The power of such a team at its peak is awesome, as it works like a machine.

If you want to manage such a team, you will need to become the linchpin. These teams are so geared towards command and control that they cannot function without these structures. Someone being brought in without the formal approval of the boss, the linchpin, has no real chance of survival.

What you cannot expect these teams to do is to think creatively outside of set boundaries. They will not consider it, and if forced to do so, they will no longer function correctly.

Of course, there is another type of team all together.

Teams built on expertise

Teams built on expertise, a combination of knowledge and competence rather than allegiance are in many ways diametrically opposite to teams built on allegiance. These teams typically consist of highly knowledgeable experts. Experts focus on their expertise and are a lot more likely to ignore the administrative aspects which procedural compliance requires. That makes them ultimately a lot more difficult to manage.

An expert will put his craft first, rather than his allegiance to an individual person. His allegiance is to the content area he is well versed in rather than the person in charge. To him, this manager is relevant in so far he enables the expert to function well. His role is to enable expertise to be delivered rather than to manage the team.

Experts tend to follow their expertise rather than stay within specific constrained boundaries. Hence, if his expertise requires, an expert will cross to his mind artificial boundaries to achieve a specific goal. That this crossing of boundaries may lead to friction with people whose boundaries are crossed is a sad but necessary consequence.

Experts follow their own lead, as they are the ones who know best what to do in their area of expertise. They don’t need a boss to tell them what to do, they need someone who supports them in doing what they do best, which is delivering their expertise. Given their independent nature, these people usually fare pretty well if the leadership changes. On occasion, they aren’t even aware it has changed. They often don’t care as long as the new person ensures they can do their work. They consider themselves part of a team in as far as that team enables them to do their work better, faster and more thoroughly.

An expert team will be creative by nature, and will not respect boundaries. Their main challenge is that working in a team requires them to spend time doing what they consider non value added work, such as filling out forms or writing reports. Or delivering on a deadline.

As a manager of such a team, you have access to a team of experts that can make a significant difference when it comes to creative development. Your main challenge will be to ensure such a team stays on track without going all over the place and losing their focus. Their creativity main lead them astray towards interesting areas of analysis but away from the initial scope of activities. You will need to lead without giving them the impression they are being bossed around. You will need to get them to do the administrative work without them abandoning that non value added work.