What’s the connection between human cells and #teamwork?

Photo by dullhunk

A few months ago I took a course about high performing team where Prof. Lechner (with whom I later worked with as a research assistant) gave a great metaphor that stuck with me. We were talking about synergy and how the purpose of a team is to create synergy otherwise there is no point in even creating a team. Then she told us:

Think about the cells in your body. Each cell by itself is useless. It does not do anything special. It actually won’t be able to survive on its own. However, when you put all these useless cells together, they create something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Something utterly unique and remarkable. This is the goal of forming a team. The synergy that is above the parts.

This week I was listening to a podcast from RadioLab titled: Cities. In it, they interview a scientist who explains that cells of organisms require less and less energy the more complex the creature they belong to becomes. In other words, the cells of an ant, each by its own, require more energy, than the cells of an elephant, each by its own. Every cell actually starts working slower, thus consuming less and less energy.

J. Richard Hackman writes in his book Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances:

It is a mistake – a common one and often a fatal one – to use a team for work that requires the exercise of powers that reside within and are best expressed by individual human beings. A manager’s first responsibility in creating a work team, then, is to make sure that the work to be done is appropriate for team performance and that it requires members to work together interdependently to achieve identifiable collective outcome. If that cannot be done (and many times it cannot), then the wise choice is to design and manage the work for individual performers rather than for an interacting work team.

And I thought these ideas complete each other. The synergy should not only be found in the final product, but it is also to be found in the process of creating that product. Great teams are able to create results that surpass the linear combination of all their members and the losses incurred by working as a team. These teams do it by complementing each other so each member is focused on his advantages and on contributing actual value in its own unique way. The true benefit of a team then (in some situation more than others) comes for the diversity of its members and their contribution. However, many of the managerial practices are aimed at eliminating these differences and creating homogeneity.

Would you want a cell in your brain to act like a cell in your foot? So why do you expect team member to act the same?



2 Responses to “What’s the connection between human cells and #teamwork?”

  1. vino824@aol.com Says:

    Great thought combination here…
    Your definitely connecting the dots…
    I love connecting the dots so I think I’m going to give you a long response!

    ” Take the same amount of time spent figuring out the “i-deal” and spend it talking about the job, the impact, the way the employee does it, the roadblocks and the successes. In other words – talk about anything one-on-one with poorer performers and don’t offer any “i-deals.” I’m 100% certain you will get increased performance.” * I agree 150%…

    I’m going to take this a little further. What happened to the job where the employee was rewarded annually? I mean really rewarded… Not the basic 3% and below… I mean rewarding each employee truthfully for the work they did all year. Because I can personally tell you I haven’t nor has hubby seen this since before the 1990’s recession. The current reward system for employees emerged from that time… I think it may have worked during previous hard financial times but it should have been a temporary means to meet the financial atmosphere while keeping employees engaged. Yet when the economy turned upward it was left in place… Why? It saved money. So my first thought is why do all the savings have to come at the employee level? Upper management returned to receive great bonuses… Even outrageous bonuses… While many employees at these companies received 0% and no reward for their hard work… We have lost the balance… Then companies want to know why unions are infiltrating the workforce… Was our original compensation framework broken? In my humble opinion NO. I think it was changed due to economic demands and kept in place instead of addressing another underlying situation… Bias… This ultimately rests with management… When our economy returned to upward movement why didn’t we return the %’s to employees. It was cheaper & the reward systems created to engage employees were better controlled by management… In essence they rewarded who they wanted to reward… We have evaded fine tuning management by creating more and more elaborate reward systems… Has it changed the picture at all? Haven’t we just hedged the system? Well now the time has come to pay up! The only way to fix the problem is to step up and really look at it! We need all our employees not just the “favorites” (who many times are unproductive)… We need that original framework for annual evaluations… At one time I remember being able to get up to a 20% increase in salary… Granite I was not making that much at the time but it still existed… When things improved it never returned… But we can no longer afford to put this power in the hands of one person…

    “In many situations, for many activities, no incentives are smart enough.” *Again I agree 150%…

    I believe proper compensation does not require a fix by creating reward programs… In my humble opinion a reward program is just that a quick fix to flawed compensation. I’d like to say annual raises are not important but that would be plain stupid to think an employee will invest in your company if you refuse to invest in your employee. Reward programs do not fill the gaps in our current system and has proven time & times again to be counter productive… Rewards are offered from commitment avoiding organizations wishing to avert long term $$ commitments. These reward systems have also been accompanied by a non relationship mind set. Why? It doesn’t take a genius to figure this one out… How much will you care about someone being short changed if you have no relationship with them? I think this answers itself…
    Now I don’t want to discount any employee of the month program because most ppl feel this to be a special designation and it should be… But with so many programs in existence it has sadly become uneventful.

    I can empathize with Deborah Ball and Mrs. Dewey… The education system is the perfect example to use here. I raised a child with a learning disability and for 16 yrs was involved with her annual IEP (independent education program) creation. Again, this is just an example. Myself, her teachers, and special ed specialist created a plan each year to develop her skills… It takes time, it required an immediate picture of my daughters abilities and an ever progressing picture of her future abilities and limitations… It changes each year with her growth or lack of improvement. My point here is sometimes we took a step back… In my experience when this happened it was not my childs fault but something lacking in the development or implementation of her plan… Should I punish her for not reaching goals that I set for her? With maybe a 0% on the scale of judgement? At this point I would have to ask myself what went wrong… Did I set the wrong goals, did we address the wrong weakness/strength, were the requirements of her plan met by staff/myself, is it a relationship misfit, are there other emotional issues such as family issues, did everyone fulfill their obligations? I am very thorough in my evaluation of these situations because I am responsible for her development or lack of. It is my obligation as a parent to see that she reaches or surpasses her potential. So if I find out a teacher (only an example) has not been giving her specific training as agreed I don’t want to hear about a budget issues “period”. If we sit down as a team to facilitate an IEP and you renege on your agreement then you hinder any future agreements/progress. In essence this is a separate issue that cannot in any way become part of my childs IEP it must be removed from the process. If the issues become entwined with the overall process we will never progress. We are all human and in this type of situation trust has been lost but it should not hinder further progress. It’s important to recognize that this teacher could have learned a hard lesson and will honor all future agreements. It could also be that this teacher will always operate in this manor. If we make an objective decision we would not include her in this childs IEP team, and further monitor her future dealings. Again it is important that a process be in place to handle these situations and if not one should be put in place. Then as a team we must return to the IEP and recreate our goals from a completely different beginning. We cannot just use the old agreement because the situation has changed we must start at the beginning.
    It could also be a family related situation that we can address as a team. Our home environment is very important to our success in any endeavor therefor to discount it’s importance is foolish. It could be a death in the family (just an example). In this case it should be considered in the overall planning… This would bring in specific accommodations for loss of time/attendance and what could be done to compensate for this loss of time. It could be a health condition that requires a 20 minute brake mid afternoon. There are always options when everyone’s goals are improvement… There are always ways around obstacles we only need to look. However if we simply ignore an issue we have failed to fully engage.
    Ok, my long winded point, don’t you think we should consider those who are creating and implementing these annual reviews? Who monitors the process here? Have we simply created lots of departments with people doing nothing but referring you to the next. Who is responsible? I find my greatest difficulty is getting to that person… In fact most people are not as persistent as I am and ultimately give up on finding that person/department. Have we created this to avoid responsibility? When you refer someone to another do you follow up to see if they resolved the issue? Most of us don’t…
    I will add one more thought here, surveys are not doing it… If your organization is that large that you need to survey your employees then you need an outside “unaffiliated in any way” agency to conduct one on ones with employees of their choosing. Call it engagement audit… But we should be prepared to listen to the results…
    My example above was my daughter because I find such similarities in the evading process… Some may say you can’t compare because a child is to personal… What else is more personal than how we perform our everyday jobs? I find it is one of the most important reflections of an individual that you can get and not many as personal. I have never met anyone who did not want to become better at what they do for a living. Even among less ambitious individuals I have always found that most ppl want to be proud of their performance as an employee. So just as the old school teachers say “every child is reachable”, I say every employee is reachable… To do this however will require adjustments or we can just keep hedging along.

  2. vino824@aol.com Says:

    oops posted to the wrong page…

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