Eight different ways to work as one

Feb 28 2011 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

It seems sometimes, as though there are only two ways to work: "command and control" (which we're told is evil, dictatorial and just bad karma) and "collaborative" (which means everyone gets included and all will be well with the world). A new book points out that it's not that simple - but it's not rocket science either.

In As One: individual action, collective power, consultant Mehrdad Baghai and Deloitte Global CEO James Quigley study dozens of teams that work very differently but all very well. Some are well-known (Oh goody, more examples from Apple – we can't get enough of those) and some are wonderfully new and enlightening (the Dabbawallahs that deliver lunches throughout Mumbai like so many scooter-enhanced ninjas).

They then took those examples and broke them down into the three components that make a team work:

  • People: who makes up the team and what kind of work they do (and creative types are very different than lunch delivery people, no matter what HR tells you)
  • Purpose: what they do and what drives them to do it
  • Productivity: how they go about doing it.

From there they identify eight archetypes. Most importantly, they not only identify eight types of teams but have tools, including an iPhone/iPad app) that help leaders asses which kind of team they're on and techniques for pulling them together and helping them work, well, as one.

None of these team approaches is perfect, nor is it right for every situation. You can find assessment tools and a lot more at www.asone.org, but here's the shorthand. The eight types are:

Landlords and tenants: This type of team works well when there are limited resources and people voluntarily fall into line to play. The Apple App store is one example, doing business with Walmart is another. If you want to be in the game, play by the same rules as everyone else. Don't like it? Go somewhere else.

Community organizer and volunteers: is grassroots, bottom up and passionate. Linux is a world-class computer operating system that was invented, perfected and continues to improve through volunteer armies of dedicated geeks. Microsoft still doesn't know what hit them.

Conductor and orchestra: Whether it's a real orchestra or a business, some teams are made up of highly specialized, trained and motivated experts. They require a strong central vision to pull them all together.

Producer and creative team: The book uses Cirque de Soleil as an example (and they've just about reached their expiration date as the go-to example of cutting edge business stories. When you have 6 troupes in Vegas alone you're no longer the outsider) but there are plenty of others. Creative people need to work together and be allowed to push each other and dissent. Unlike the orchestra's conductor, the producer succeeds best when allowing more individual freedom and creativity.

General and soldiers: You know that "command and control" thing? Under the right circumstances it works. Do you really want a committee meeting in the middle of a mine field? But it's not just the military. Hierarchical but efficient organizations like Marriott work this way too.

Architect and builders: Sometimes the organization is the result of one person's vision and dream of bringing something impossible to life. The Tata car is a prime example. Sadly, this is also likely to be the example people point to when they want to say the book is so much pie-in-the-sky if sales don't improve.

Captain and sports team: I'm a pretty big sports fan, but no analogy is so fetishized in American business as the model of the sports team as metaphor for business. The authors focus less on charismatic leaders than on teams that are agile, able to adjust to different strengths under different situations while keeping their eyes on a goal. This is where the Dabbawallahas come in, and their story is much more compelling than anything Manchester United or the New York Yankees can conjure up.

Senator and citizens: These teams are values-focused and, while there are nominal leader, it's relentless commitment to values and higher goals that filter down to the day to day of business. Harley Davidson is one example, W.L. Gore (maker of GoreTex) is another.

What surprised the authors is the number of people who are just on the wrong team: their collaboration style is different (and often completely antithetical to) than the rest of the group. That doesn't surprise me quite so much as that someone has finely found a way to articulate it so well.

To find out more, you can hear an interview with author Mehrdad Baghai on the Cranky Middle Manager show podcast.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.