What is a team? The usual response runs along the lines of a group of people who work together for a common goal, but teams are often far more nebulous and subtle than this simple definition would suggest.
Think about your own experience at work. You probably belong to several teams that are explicitly described in the company’s structural plan: ‘the finance team’, ‘the senior management team’ and the like. But do you feel you share a common goal with all of the other members? How many ‘sub-teams’ are operating within the group, often with quite different agendas? Irreconcilable divisions within teams will undermine their unity and may compromise their ability to function at all.
Contrast that scenario with coherent teams, where differences are exploited or assimilated in the interests of the common purpose, and where there is mutual trust, respect and openness. Strong teams like this will both enable and amplify the talents and expertise of the individual members, and can be a potent force for development and change in the company. This is why team development is so important, and nowhere more so than with virtual teams where the members aren’t really aware that they belong to one. I recently had the privilege of working with just such a team: when the question of whether or not they were a team was put to them, only half the members felt that they were. This was a group of intelligent and highly competent managers, with an enormous potential that was being hampered by feeling isolated and unsupported.
The help available from people who you feel you trust and can rely on comes in many different forms. It may be a direct contribution, actually taking over some of your workload. Since everyone is under much the same degree of pressure direct help like this may not be possible, but unless your team-mates know what you do and how you’re doing it, they won’t know whether there is anything they could do. Support might also be less direct, simply knowing you’re part of a team of people you can talk to when you’re feeling pressured. This may not directly reduce your in-tray, but will certainly help you to not turn pressure into stress.
However, the power of a team can also be its Achilles heel, when it leads to the feeling that with this team we can rule the world. The challenges of surviving in a global economy remain, and unrealistic expectations can lead to a fall at the first subsequent hurdle. Paradoxically, another downside is the empowering feeling of ‘us’. If there’s ‘us’ there must be ‘them’, and just as a team needs to be coherent, so too does the wider organisation within which the team operates. When ‘us’ and ‘them’ becomes ‘we’, the world’s there for the taking.