We were having a discussion in the office a few weeks back and I was told a story about a team building exercise that a colleague participated in.  What surprised me is that we both reached opposite conclusions based on the outcome of the exercise.  The exercise task was as follows:

Scenario: Choose Survival Equipment

Your plane crashed…you need to choose the 12 most useful items to survive and rank the equipment items in terms of their relative survival value.

Step 1. Participants choose and rank the items and submits their individual results

Step 2. Participants are divided into teams and the team compiles a new list based on the team discussion

Step 3. The individual and team results are graded and compared.

Conclusion

  • Individual scores ranked between 40% to 95% with the average score being 55% correct
  • Team scores ranked between 65% to 85% correct with the average score being 75% correct
  • The individual that scored the top score 95% ended up on a team that resulted in the lowest team score of 65%

My colleague felt that these results demonstrated that people working in teams produced better results than individuals working on their own.  However, I saw a different interpretation to these results.

The  best results overall were reached by an individual who could not produce these same results on a team, nor could the other teams produce this high score although their scores did increase.  If the goal is to produce better results on average, teamwork seems produce better results.  If getting the best score possible is the goal, selecting the best person to perform the job might be the better option.  My preference is to go for the best of both, assign the best person for the job but have the results reviewed and discussed by a team to benefit from other skill sets that the individual might not have.

If you are heavily relying on teams to produce results, you might want to consider the following questions:

  • How are decisions made by the team?
  • Who influences the decisions and how?
  • How could better decisions be made?
  • Do people listen to each other? if not why not?
  • What roles do group members adopt?
  • How is conflict managed?
  • What kinds of behavior help or hinder the group?
  • How did people feel about the decisions?
  • How satisfied was each person with the decisions?

For the best results, it is important to ensure that team members feel comfortable to voice their opinions and that all ideas are being considered and vetted.  After a decision is reached, the team has to agree to support the decision even if they did not necessary vote in favour of it, otherwise the team will be ineffective.

Note: I almost forgot to mention the question of time.  This didn’t come up in the original discussion with my colleague but I would think that logically more time is needed to reach a consensus with the team than might be required for the individual to arrive at the solution.  It is critical to keep timelines in mind when trying to determine whether to tackle a project with a team or an individual or a blend of both.  If you don’t factor in the additional time required by the team, the pressure to succeed under a tight timeline could pull even an excellent team apart.