The Importance of Teaming

Managers need to stop thinking of teams as static groups of individuals who have ample time to practice interacting successfully and efficiently. So says Amy Edmondson in her new book, Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy. The reason: Today’s corporate teams band and disband by the minute, requiring a more dynamic approach to how teams absorb knowledge.

A recent issue of the HBS Working Knowledge Blog profiled Professor Edmondson’s book. Key concepts include:

  • Previous literature has focused heavily on team design rather than on team performance.
  • Professor Edmondson introduces the idea of teaming, a verb that embraces the reality of teamwork on the fly.
  • Effective teaming requires the ability to recognize moments of potential collaboration and act upon them quickly. Managers can encourage employees to develop this ability.
  • Teaming, says Edmondson, is “the engine of organizational learning.”

Many managers are taught to think of teams as carefully designed, static groups of individuals who, like a baseball team or improv comedy troupe, have ample time to practice interacting successfully and efficiently. The truth is, most corporate project teams don’t have the temporal luxury. Teams are often disbanded before they have a chance to gel, as individual members are delegated to new projects—and therefore new teams—on a hectic as-need basis.

Professor Edmondson maintains that managers should think in terms of “teaming”—actively building and developing teams even as a project is in process, while realizing that a team’s composition may change at any given moment. Teaming, she says, is essential to organizational learning.

“Teaming calls for developing both affective (feeling) and cognitive (thinking) skills,” she writes. “Enabled by distributed leadership, the purpose of teaming is to expand knowledge and expertise so that organizations and their customers can capture the value.”

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