We talk a lot about leadership, but what about teamship?

Everybody talks about leaders and leadership. But what about teamship?

The larger the teams, the larger the complexity is of achieving the same goal. Collective action occurs when a number of people work together to achieve some common goal.

I believe that company culture and performance depend largely on group dynamics and in particular if collective action can be achieved. IF it can be achieved at all. Because quite often, group members do not seem to be willing to achieve the same goal. We speak about a collective action problem.

-reading time: 5 minutes- / -audience: leaders, teams and team members-

We talk a lot about leadership, but what about teamship?

Everybody talks about leaders and leadership. But what about teamship? I believe that company culture and performance has much to do with the team. It is important to know that one cannot claim leadership; a team grants it to you. Therefore, the relationship with the team and the relationships within the team are key to success.

The larger the teams, the larger the complexity is of actually being a team. I will spare you a conversation about what a team is, but there is one element which I would like to discuss: collective action.

Collective action occurs when a number of people work together to achieve some common goal. Probably most people would say that this is exactly what great leadership is about: help people working together so that they can achieve their common goal.

But what about the team in total, so including the leader? The team is with more people and should not delegate all responsibility to only one person, the leader – this is not what granting leadership is about.

I believe that company culture and performance depend largely on group dynamics and in particular if collective action can be achieved. IF it can be achieved at all. Because quite often, group members do not seem to be willing to achieve the same goal. We speak about a collective action problem.

Four disincentives leading to a collective action problem

A collective action problem is caused by disincentives which tend to discourage joint action by individuals in the pursuit of a common goal. While each group member may share common interests with every other group member, each also has conflicting interests. This is the root cause of the collective action problem.

How could this be solved? Is it leadership? Yes, but only when a) the leader has a great sense of awareness and mindfulness about the collective interests and possible conflicts between collective and individual interests of the group members, and b) is able to bridge these through specific interventions.

I would like to highlight four disincentives:

Individual cost/benefit analysis

Some members do not take part; this happens when these members believe that taking part in a collective is costly.

A form of coercion must be present in order for a group of individuals to act in their common interest. Collective action problems can be solved in large groups by the use of selective incentives. For example, extra rewards for taking part or penalties for not taking part.

Also, the relative costs of taking part in a collective are important; individuals will not contribute toward a collective goal if the extra benefits of achieving the goal are worth less than the costs of their contribution.

Free-riding

Some members take a free ride; this takes place when these members believe that the collective action will happen without their individual contributions.

The free-rider problem occurs wherever there is a collective good giving non-excludability; a group member can enjoy the benefits of the good without having to pay for it as long as the good is provided. The common – penalizing – approach to this, is to tell free-riders that when they do not contribute, the good will not be provided at all; taking supply away.

People have well-defined preference orderings and know their own interests. So, a different approach – probably a more rewarding one – is to discover shared preferences and interests within the team and work from there. People do not automatically work together to promote their collective interests. This approach requires the recognition that there are shared interests in the group.

Size matters

Size matters in forming teams; contributions can be perceived as less important depending on the size.

Smaller teams are easier to organise and manage than larger ones. Size matters for two reasons: the larger the group, the less important an individual contribution may appear to team success. This dynamic increases the temptation to free ride. The other reason is the size of the team changes the actual importance of any given contribution. This has to do with the increased interaction within the group due to the higher number of members in a larger group. This could also lead to the forming of subgroups within the team.

The forming of subgroups within a team is something to pay attention to as well – not only for the ingroup/outgroup dynamics – when the subgroup tries to override the collective goal of the team and try to break up the coalition of interests by exploiting differences and moving the group away from the common interests.

Team constellation

Constellation of teams may impact the speed of coming to a collective goal, caused by the characteristics of the team and of the individual team members.

Some of the group characteristics are brought in by the member characteristics of the team, but other characteristics are of the team itself. Team members that are more sociable and have greater networking skills form a team which finds it easier to overcome collective action problems. Teams with a great hierarchical structure may find it more difficult to start a ground level approach and involve all individual interests.

Teamship awareness supports the COLLECTIVE team goal

Leadership is one thing, but teamship is probably even more important. Not only a leader but all team members should be (made) aware of the potential differences between individual and collective interests.

Another point is to be mindful about what is in it – the collective goal – for each individual team member. What are the costs to contribute to and what are the benefits of the collective team goal?

Be aware of the size and constellation of the team to avoid free-riding and dominating individual member characteristics that have a negative impact on the team characteristics.

Inspired by Collective Action Problem  by Keith Dowding