Weaknesses of teams when it comes to productivity and creativity

Teams = praise. We extol teams constantly, but we may not have objective evidence to support that widespread belief. When a group of people work together on a project, many times they succeed better than if individuals members went ahead on their own. Other times, however, teams falter for various reasons. For example, citing research by Elliott Jaques, the author Robert Rowland Smith, Breakfast with Socrates (Free Press 2009) at 47, notes that “the spreading of effort across several people leads both to a diffusion of accountability and to a confusion of role.”

Perhaps because of my contrarian streak, I have accumulated a number of posts that attack teams (See my post of Jan. 6, 2006: demographic diversity has a negative effect; Aug. 28, 2006: attack on committee effectiveness; Jan. 20, 2007: task conflicts and relationship conflicts; Jan. 11, 2009: law department’s online tool to diagnose team problems; May 29, 2009: performance problems as team size increases; June 4, 2009: four challenges of teams; June 23, 2009: does background diversity help a team; May 26, 2010: heterogeneity may degrade a team’s performance; and June 16, 2010: diversity can obstruct team effectiveness.). To this array I would add group think, peer pressure, chilling effects, and brainstorming gone awry.

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