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Get with the team: Meeting the growing need to collaborate

KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today I am delighted to speak, once again, to Amy Edmondson who is a professor at the Harvard Business School.

Amy, you have talked for the last few years about teaming, in fact you have a new book out. What are some of the key things we have learned about teaming and why do you call it teaming?

AMY EDMONDSON – So my book, Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate and Compete in the Knowledge Economy, came out in April and I talk about teaming because the requirement for people in organizations to collaborate across disciplines, across distances, often across hierarchical levels, and even across organizations, is greater then it ever was. And the ability to get stable teams that are well designed, put in place, that are going to learn to practice and work together well for the long term is less and less clear.

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So, in other words, we need to do a great deal of teaming, we need to collaborate across all these groups to get most of the complicated work done that needs to be done. We rarely have the luxury of stable team structures of people who work together for a long period of time and get good at doing that.

KM – So it's no longer about my team that I have been on for years, that we go out together and we know each other's spouses – that sort of thing. It's saying that there is an underlying skill that I need to develop because this is going to be what I'm required to do a lot. What are some of those skills we have to learn?

AE – The skills we have to learn, to be good at teaming, start first with the old saying, "Seek first to understand." Start with inquiry, I need to quickly learn as much as I can about you. What do you bring? What skills do you bring? What needs do you have? What goals do you want to achieve? Then I also need to get very good at explaining myself, explaining what I bring to the party and explaining what goals I have and what I am up against.

So much of the skills of teaming are thoughtful conversation – the ability to really dig in, understand the challenges, the conflicts that we are going to encounter, be okay with that, but then really dig in, slow it down, and understand what each other is up against and then figure out how we are going to work together. And we need to do it quickly! In a sense what one of the major skills of teaming is to act as if you trust each other even though we don't yet. We can't, we don't know each other, but we have to jump in and act as if we do or we won't reveal the information, the goals, the skills and so forth that we need to reveal to work well together.

KM – One of the traditional models is the "Forming, Storming, Norming" kind of model. Is that still relevant in this world of teaming rather then teams?

AE – I think the model of Forming, Norming, Storming and so on is still relevant but it's sped up. So the forming, the norming and the storming might happen in a matter of minutes or hours rather then days or weeks. I think maybe if we all see it coming, we know there will be storms, there will be a need to at least form temporarily in order to do our work. We will be better equipped to go through those phases and, in a sense, get them over with. I don't think that every team or every teaming encounter has to form, storm, norm and then get into a gear that is fairly stable, but I do think we have to expect conflict.

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