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Building Great Teams Print
In the early '80s a team of Russian scientists were on a quest to discover what separated us, the humans, from our closest relatives, the chimpanzees. In other words, what made us human, while they remained … monkey?

Defining Teams


To conduct experiments on chimpanzee's behavior and mental abilities, they placed a group of chimpanzees on a small, isolated island.

Using peach cobbler as a lure, an apparent favorite, chimps were asked to perform various tasks, testing their abilities to remember, apply logic and use associative and abstract thinking. Our distant cousins performed just as well as humans would, in each one of these tasks. The scientists were puzzled. After all, what is the difference between us?

Finally, they put the chimps in cages and placed a jar of peach cobbler in a small hole on the ground. Then, they covered it with a stone. The stone was too heavy for a single monkey to move, but two of them could easily roll it over. Each monkey took a turn attempting to move the stone under the scrutiny of the others, but to no avail. The chimps were not quitters for sure, but by dusk, the desperation set in. It was obvious to them that the stone will not move and the delicacy will remain impossible to reach. It was equally obvious to the researchers that the chimps did not even consider pulling together as a team.

I always thought that human intelligence is the differentiating factor, but the experiment proved that teamwork made our ancestors humans and fueled progress ever since. The need for teaming encouraged the development of a large array of communication methods among humans. Communication, in turn allows us to build teams for success. The experiment irrevocably proved the need for teaming and with that, the need to know how to do it.

What is a team

But what exactly is a team? If you gather a few people together, like in a sport event and a concert, are they a team? If you bring a number of people in a group, is that a team? Team is more than the mere collection of individuals in one location. The chimps were together as a group, but were not a team.

Team is defined as a group of people acting together in a collaborative manner for the purpose of achieving common goals.1 The "teamness" emerges from the relationships among the people involved. These relationships have to be collaborative and focused on achieving a common goal.

Teams are often classified by their size. Researchers classify as a small team, a team consisting of 3 to 12 people and teams are considered large if they number more than 12. The participation in the team by individual members depends on its size. For example, on six person juries there is greater vocal participation than on twelve person juries.2 Smaller teams however, are more prone to inhibit disagreement and signs of dissatisfaction to a greater degree than large teams.

Humans congregated in groups since the dawn of mankind driven by the need to survive, provide food and secure future generations. Our ancestors had to give up some of their privacy in exchange for success and security. However, our need for privacy remains and causes a constant tug-of-war between the two necessities, privacy and socializing. Effective teams know how to create a 'dynamic compromise', i.e. allow for privacy while encouraging socializing.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Teams

Teams develop the feeling of a collective identity in addition to the individual identity. This co-existence offer participants both great advantages and disadvantages.


One of the greatest advantages of teams is the consideration of multiple perspective and inputs on the issues at hand by the team members. An old Bulgarian proverb insists that "Two brains are always more than one". Coherent, focused teams can provide better solutions to problems than a single individual by tapping the collective knowledge, experience and creativity.

Teams provide less threatening environment for people who are less inclined to take on responsibility solely by themselves. They offer the ability to evaluate the impact of an idea before it is implemented, thus avoiding costly mistakes. As a result team members exhibit greater commitment to the collective decisions reached, because they can identify with them.

An interesting effect of teamwork is the risky shift phenomenon.3
This is a situation when after a discussion among team members; a collective decision is made containing more risk, than decisions reached by people working alone. In other words, team members are willing to take on higher risk together than they would individually. Military researchers observed that people would do in a group what they will probably not do as individuals.


Groups also present a plethora of disadvantages. For one, group decision-making takes longer. As a result, time constrains on teamwork can diminish their decision-making quality.

Team membership requires the surrender of some individuality in order for the team to function as a whole. This is difficult for some individuals. On the other hand, giving up individuality can lead to "groupthink". "Groupthink" is a blind commitment by team members to group decisions at the expense of careful analysis.4

To avoid groupthink, teams should actively seek information that challenges the emerging concurrence.5 Developing norms of group behavior legitimizing disagreement will help avoid the danger of groupthink.

Another pitfall to watch for is excessive optimism and idealized believe that the team cannot be wrong. This is known as Pollyanna-Nietzshe effect. The term is derived from Pollyanna, meaning excessive optimism and nietzshistic, or idealized belief.

The team also provides a cover for individual member's performance, which causes some members of the team to work less then they would individually. The phenomenon is known as Social Loafing. When the individual feels that his or her own contribution to the group cannot be measured his or her output tends to slacken.6


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