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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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One response to “Weaknesses of teams when it comes to productivity and creativity”

  1. Rees, Hi — I hope this short response finds you well. It’s been many moons since we’ve connected.
    On the team faltering issue, I agree completely. There is more evidence of team efforts among lawyers failing than succeeding. Of course, there is good reason for this.
    Leaving aside for the moment the real trial lawyers (not the masses of “litigators”) and those attorneys who pursue a career in mediation and recognize the need for sharpening their talents to excel in these fields; it seems to me that most attorneys somehow conclude the “training and skill building” for the most part are over after law school.”
    It takes knowledge, training and skill (the latter coming through practice) to be an effective team leader AND to serve as an effective team member. The next time you’re in front of a large audience of lawyers, ask how many have had significant (or any) training in effective team building, communication, leadership and/or performance.
    You can point to all the problems with legal teams — as in your list of contrarian posts — but the real problem, IMHO, is simply lack of training and willingness to invest the time and effort to acquire and work at improving the requisite skills.
    Add to this that fact that in law school we all get trained to act autonomously; and it’s no wonder lawyers generally are not effective team players.