Team building and high-functioning teams are hot today, and they should be especially in today’s high-demand, highly matrixed organizations. But is it possible that a team could actually be too close or tight and lose its effectiveness?
A human phenomenon is at work within an overly tight-knit group. It is the tendency toward togetherness and distance; we’re drawn close and then we move away when it gets too intense. These two forces are constantly at work in our relationships, ebbing and flowing in a fairly predictable rhythm.
In times of high anxiety and stress the tendency of the group is to pull together. This is a natural reaction in a move toward safety and security. It makes sense and, to a point, can be valuable to avert the danger or solve the problem. But when the group begins to sense too much closeness or intensity, people begin to pull away for relief.
High functioning teams will ebb and flow in this manner and adept leaders are aware of this pattern and constantly watch for it. They know that both too much closeness and too much distance can be problems and they work to ensure the balance of the team.
Occasionally, though, there are those highly anxious leaders who demand constant and intense togetherness. It can show up in various ways such as:
- Lots of meetings
- Excessive calls, texts and emails (and on the personal side, over-use of Facebook)
- Insistence on going to lunch together too often
A couple extreme cases that I’m aware of: A director demanded that her direct reporters be her close, personal friends. In another case, a district manager pressured employees to be very revealing about their personal lives.
This insistence on a lot of togetherness can take its toll. One result is that so much energy is spent on maintaining relationships versus working and pursuing goals. Another is the smothering and inhibiting of individual growth.
But there’s a particularly damaging and alluring problem with excessive doses of “group”: the tendency toward group-think. In these tight situations the pressure to think alike is very strong. When this happens the power, variety and clarity of individual thinking and creativity is severely stifled.
A critical value of team is the incredible powerhouse of thinking and creative resources to produce a variety of ideas and solutions. When a leader forces too much togetherness, options and flexibility can be lost. In some extreme cases, leaders will actually demand (overtly or covertly) group-think and squelch new ideas.
“Teaming” has its place. Leaders must encourage a certain familiarity, comfort, respect and enjoyment of each other to function optimally. However, overdoing “team” can potentially undermine the very reason for the team’s existence: to achieve optimal productivity through the pooling of resources.
Thoughts to Consider:
- Become a student of your team (the ones you lead and are on) – observe
- Do you see this healthy ebb and flow of togetherness and relief?
- Is there too much of one or the other?
- Is group-think too strong?
- What is your role in encouraging group-think?
- What can you do to challenge the current dynamic?