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Transcript: The end of the team as we know it

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KARL MOORE: This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, talking management for The Globe and Mail. Today, I'm delighted to speak to Amy Edmonson, who's a professor at the Harvard Business School.

Good morning, Amy.

AMY EDMONSON: Good morning.

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KM: So, one of the things you've looked at is teams, and studied it for a number of years. What do you see happening these days with teams and their nature?

AE: I see teams disappearing, which will sound very surprising because, in fact, we hear more and more about teams. But stable, bounded, clearly defined teams are less and less in evidence. What I see more of is "teaming." So, teaming is a verb, teaming is a skill, teaming is an activity. Most of the work that is of any importance in organizations needs teaming to get it done, but it's not being done in stable, bounded, intact entities.

KM: So that means that the skill set and employee is going to have is going to change. How are they going to change?

AE: We're going to have to get better at learning how to quickly relate to people we don't know; learning how to trust them, learning how to share our knowledge, extract their knowledge, synthesize it, even though we come from very different backgrounds, different expertise areas and so forth.

KM: So, this seems that extroverts would have a natural advantage over introverts.

AE: Could be, could be. Although I think these are skills that anyone can learn. I think extroverts are more at home with these skills but introverts can learn to do them, and kind of fake it until they get good at it and ultimately, I think that the difference is that introverts have to then recover. They need some downtime to think and process, whereas the extroverts are processing while they're doing the teaming.

KM: When you look at it, building trust is a critical issue with teams. How do you quickly build trust?

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AE: How do you quickly build trust? Self-disclosure, inquiry; the more I ask, the more genuine curiosity I have about you, and the more questions I ask of you, the more you will trust me and the more I'll learn about you, which will also help me trust you. So, it's a kind of positive feedback loop and it starts with curiosity, inquiry and disclosure.

KM: So, it's something where perhaps team-building exercises would be really central to build a bit of that trust early in that kind of teaming process?

AE: I think team-building exercises are very powerful and have a role, although, more and more, we don't have time to go offline and do them. So, we need to do the team building in the context of doing the work itself. So, we're both working on the task and building the team as we go, or building the teaming skills as we go.

KM: So it's more a matter of doing - maybe it's at lunch talking about your family, talking about where you grew up, stuff like that?

AE: Absolutely, and the more I know about your family, where you grew up, you know, all of those sort of wonderful things that make you you, the more I like you, frankly.

KM: But in some cultures - we have an MBA in Tokyo, and the Japanese are culturally not apt to do that, at least with foreigners. Is there a cultural overlay on this?

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AE: There probably is. This is not something I've spent a lot of time looking at, although I have looked at some globally dispersed teams, where culture became a very real challenge because of taken-for-granted assumptions. In fact, some of the members were in Japan, some were in Germany, some were in the U.K., and taken-for-granted assumptions about what you share and when you share it absolutely got in their way. But these teams learned how to be explicit about that. They learned how, and some of that had to happen by, at certain points, meeting face to face and learning what they were missing.

KM: This has been Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, talking management for The Globe and Mail.

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