The concept of growing a team instead of building a team has been around a long time. It seems to have started with Frederick P Brooks in his book “The mythical man-month” written over 30 years ago. He believed that the “building metaphor has outlived its usefulness” and that “the conceptual structures we construct today are too complicated to be accurately specified in advance and too complex to be built faultlessly, then we must take a radically different approach”.
So why do we persist with the term “team building”? I believe it’s because it’s easier for many technical managers to deal with inanimate objects that it is to deal with people. Building involves taking materials and logically turning them into something productive. You can determine in advance what you want to achieve and, with the right skills and equipment, reproduce an exact replica of a blueprint.
People aren’t like that. Just because someone has the skills to perform a role doesn’t mean they will perform it. Just because a reporting structure should work doesn’t mean it will. Just because you give someone the title of manager doesn’t mean they can manage. Things get in the way. Things like personalities, past experiences and perceptions.
We have moved on from the industrial age and are now in the information age. People are at the heart of most organisations. Today successful business is about intellectual capital not capital works. So stop treating people like pieces of wood you can build into a structure and start treating them like living beings that will naturally grow if given the right conditions.
Like a good garden, what makes a good team comes down to intangibles and most technical managers aren’t good at dealing with them. They want the black and white, right and wrong, one size fits all solution. Gardeners know that doesn’t work. They know you can put five plants in the same garden bed, four will thrive and one will die. Often there is no logic to it, just like with people. You can do all the right things . . . give them good soil, water them, give them regular fertiliser and protect them from pests and they will still die! That’s nature. Just like you can’t command a plant to grow faster, you can’t command a person to work harder.
So let’s stop talking about team building and start talking about team growing. Let’s look at what we can do to let people naturally develop rather than force them to fit neatly into a predetermined size and shape.
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