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Article by Michael Harpham, Managing Director, Symfonys Group  
After reading this article, you might wish to check out our Team Workshops and our Intrapreneurial Skills Workshop


In the ‘flatter’, team-based organisation structures designed to cope with the demands of reengineered processes, companies need to rethink their concepts about teamwork -

individuals and teams must learn to reap the fruits of interdependence and intrapreneurship. 


Teamwork exists wherever two or more people come together – the key to effective results is how well they ‘team’. We explore ‘teaming’, the most over-sold and under-practised tool in the manager’s kitbag.


Whether we like it or not, we increasingly have to work in a more team-oriented way than in the past. Hierarchical organisations are shaking themselves free of traditional structures and therefore managers, whether they are:


*   introducing Total Quality Management and Reengineering or major change programme;

*   improving customer service, productivity, quality, sales or margins;

*   generating motivation, creativity or more open communication


With companies working on the model of large-scale, high-volume output, central control was more important than individual or functional autonomy. Power was vested in the hands of a few managers. Competitive pressures are encouraging organisations to ‘flatten’ their hierarchies and empower people to take on more responsibility, to make better use of what they know and to learn faster the new skills they need.


The following table summarises the differences between the elements of the traditional and ‘new’ organisation:


Element                        Traditional Organisation                       New Organisation

Structure                       Hierarchical/Layered/ Individual                  Flat/team

Job design                      Single-task                                                Whole process/multiple-task

Management role           Direct/control                                            Coach/facilitate

Leadership                     Top-down                                                  Shared with team

Information flow             Controlled/limited                                      Open/shared

Rewards                         Individual/seniority                                    Team-based/skills-based

Job process                    Manager plans, controls, improves              Team plans, controls

Source: Industry Week


‘New’ Organisations require three key characteristics, which form the message of this article: teaming, which presupposes a degree of interdependence; and intrapreneurship, which is a way of delivering value to customers. All three must be developed, nurtured and maintained in the new organisation structures emerging from major organisational renewal efforts already engaging large Hong Kong companies such as China Light & Power and Hong Kong Telecom. Both rub against the grain of previous, traditional organisational cultures, which tended to reward individual effort (whether individual person or ‘individual’ department or function) and discourage individual initiative.


Let us consider each key idea, starting with teaming, or teamwork. Apart from using a relatively dubious word, ‘to team’, this article introduces no new teamwork concept; rather, it argues firstly that we can benefit by changing the way we perceive ‘teamwork’. Teaming is not about “creating teams” and launching expensive new initiatives. Team  is defined as “a group working together to produce results”  and Teamwork as how we work together with others to produce results”. The verb ‘to team’ is defined as ‘doing’ Teamwork or “working together with others to produce results”.


The verb ‘to team’ is used here when referring to ‘doing’ teamwork, or “working together with others to produce results”, disregarding the many different ways in which it is possible to  ‘team’ – the degree of member interdependence. No judgment is made in the definition as to whether there is or is not teamwork. Working in a team and as a team is a natural part of functioning in any kind of work. There is no choice since teamwork happens anyway. ‘Working’ is the constant. ‘Together’ and ‘team’ are the variables. How the variables operate and interact depend on the overall effectiveness and maturity of the team, and specifically on the degree of interdependence with which the team operates, which in turn decides the teaming characteristics adopted to achieve results.




No more than a few years ago, managers in America and Europe started experimenting with answers to the question: “To team or not to team?” It is still a question most managers, especially in Hong Kong, need to confront in competitive and fast-changing markets.


But is it the ‘right’ question? For in truth, is there an alternative to teaming? The moment one person is joined by a second, they are consciously or unconsciously working as a team. By definition: an organisation is one and many teams, a manager managing others manages a team; anyone who reports to a manager works in a team; a ‘lone’ worker still belongs to the organisational team (and if you are a sole proprietor, try working alone!). We all have to team.




Are you possibly one of those busy executives who insist that teamwork is not something they wish to “introduce in this organisation”? Who misinterpret the word ‘teamwork’ and associate it with “holding hands”,  “decision by consensus”, “endless meetings”? Then naturally your answer to our question is: “not to team”.


Do you believe that teamwork is a ‘style’ of management? Some managers with a more paternalistic or autocratic management style shy away from ‘teamwork’. They consider that they are paid to take responsibility and make decisions. But do they not realise that they are nevertheless managing a ‘team’ and practising ‘teamwork’ – in their way? Each manager, each team, is different. ‘Teamwork’ is not a style of management; a team can be managed autocratically or democratically. Either way, the team will work and produce results - more, or often less, effectively.


Or are you one of the majority of managers who, for obvious reasons, maintain they already have acceptable, good or excellent teamwork? Without exception these managers have to admit, after they and their team have audited their team effectiveness, that numerous and significant improvements could be implemented immediately. Teamwork, and its improvement, is too often taken for granted.


Finally, there are those who interpret ‘teamwork’ as one way of organising people and structuring organisations. The misconception here - encouraged by many ‘teamwork’ writers and gurus - is that to have teamwork, teams must be ‘created’. In fact, in every organisation, teams already exist.


Nor, finally, is teaming purely a way of organising people and structuring organisations. The misconception here is that to have teamwork, teams have to be ‘created’. But in every organisation, the teams already exist. The teams’ managers simply need to ask the ‘right’ question to tap vast latent potential.




No team I have worked with initially has clear agreement about what ‘team’ and ‘teamwork’ mean for the team. Few teams even have agreement about the team’s mission and values. Nearly all team managers and members of their teams, when asked to evaluate how effective they are as a team, feel they are ‘very effective’, even though they are basing their judgments on dissimilar, and often contradictory, assumptions and criteria. Now we come to what ‘teaming’ really is about: improved results.


“Can we team better?” is the ‘right’ question - the question all managers need to ask themselves, their team and their organisation, the question organisations should expect their managers to answer and against which they should measure managers’ performance. Invariably the answer to the ‘right’ question must be “yes” because all managers, all work groups, all teams can improve their teamwork. No team nowadays can afford not to improve its performance - continuously. Before teams can implement improvements, they need to become aware of how they team and recognise exactly what needs to be improved.


The fact is: TEAMING WORKS! Teamwork does improve quality, customer service and productivity, does reduce costs and boost morale, does help people cope with rapid change and growth. Business Week reports that teaming organisations are, on average, 30% to 50% more productive that their traditional counterparts. But teaming is the MEANS, not the END - the means to achieve these other organisational goals.


Primary Reason for more Teamwork                                       Respondents (%)

Quality                                                                                                        38

Productivity                                                                                                22

Reduced operating costs                                                                            17

Job satisfaction                                                                                           12

Restructuring                                                                                                5

Other:   Flexibility, faster response to technological change, 

                        better response to  new worker values, ability to 

             attract and retain people                                                                6

Source: Wellins, Wilson, Katz, Laughlin and Day, 1990




Whether there is 0% or 100% interdependence, a team is a team. Traditionally, a team consists of one manager to whom a number of subordinates report, usually independently, because they are responsible for different parts of the whole. This 0% to 10% interdependence has served organisations well for centuries and so proved its worth that many companies do not question its appropriateness. For completing routine, unchanging tasks, it is unsurpassed. While it may fail to take account of the more sophisticated needs of the well-educated people who now form the majority of the workforce, this level of interdependence works reasonably well for most organisations.


For the majority of companies now seeking dramatic ways to improve performance and gain commitment and results beyond expectations, however, the 0% to 10% model is inadequate. These have discovered, and are discovering, that as interdependence increases, so does performance. Is it surprising then that some more adventurous companies are already experimenting with the opposite extreme of 90% to 100% interdependence, introducing self-managed teams? Clearly, in a fast-changing, competitive global market-place, world-class organisations and their managers are working at ever-higher interdependence levels.


Managers owe it to themselves, their teams and their organisations to choose appropriate levels of interdependence - levels which deliver superior performance with outstanding commitment.




The following table illustrates the interdependence continuum and describes the type of team which adopts that level of interdependence.


Degree of


dependence     Type of team                 TEAMing characteristics


0% to 10%       Manager-directed             - Traditional work group

                          Individual-centred         - Highly manager-dependent

                                                                     - Manager sets goals, assigns work

                                                                     - Manager sees whole; work segmented

                                                                      - Individuals get authority from

                                                                         manager but uncertain about role and


10% to 40%     Manager-focused               - Group held together by needs of task

                           Task-centred                    - Manager provides direction, coordinates,


                                                                       - Manager establishes group norms

                                                                       - Group identity and work method            

                                                                          dependent on manager

                                                                       - Manager can adopt any mgt style

                                                                       - Group in advisory capacity 


40% to 60%    Manager-led                     - Members involved in setting team goals

                           Goal-centred                     - Commitment to goals which guide actions

                                                                        - Increased cohesiveness from clear goals

                                                                        - Group incentives

                                                                        - Manager acts as a leader


60% to 90%     Team-focused                    - Members form team identity, define team

                           Process-centred                roles, norms and procedures

                                                                       - Manager moves from ‘cop’ to ‘coach’

                                                                       - Energy focused to produce synergy

                                                                       - Members empowered and cross-trained

                                                                       - Mutual purpose and accountability

                                                                       - Leadership and other roles shared

                                                                       - Team works on complete processes


90% to 100% Self-directed                      - Team makes most decisions affecting it

                           Vision-centred                      and its goals - led by vision

                           Entrepreneurial                 - Responds fast to customer requirements

                                                                        - Can reduce turnaround time dramatically

                                                                        - Team measures, appraises and reports         

                                                                            on own performance

                                                                        - Requires little/no formal leadership

                                                                        - Manager functions as outside resource

                                                                        - Rewards focused on group



This hierarchy of interdependence provides a simple but ambitious framework for firstly evaluating current performance and secondly planning for improved effectiveness. Ten years ago in Asia, and especially in Hong Kong, most organisations and teams were satisfied working at the 10% to 40% level. Most of the companies I work with in Asia are currently well into the 40% to 60% level. In the US and Europe, large corporations have been reengineering themselves to work at the 60% to 90% level and a number have successfully managed to work at the 90% to 100% interdependence level, while many have tried and failed. Asia will no doubt follow in its turn.


While believing that the main ‘highway’ teams should follow in their quest for improved performance is the interdependence continuum, I must point out that all teams have ample scope for improvement within a given level. Indeed, for some teams and types of business, it can be dangerous to move to higher levels than appropriate.



Any one level of team can improve its performance and effectiveness significantly without moving into the next band of interdependence. Clearly, spiraling into the higher band - we can call it ‘teaming up’ - has the potential of achieving a greater leap in performance - provided the team realises that the next band will involve them in a making qualitative shift (teams moving into the 60%-100% levels will need the organisation to shift also); the team will also probably have to do some maintenance and backtracking ‘repair’ work at its current and even the lower levels - ‘teaming down’ - to ensure it has solid enough foundations for the leap forward.


Now we have two key questions to ask. Having obviously replied ‘yes’ to “Can we team better?”, we must ask ourselves and the members of our team: “Is the level of interdependence at which we are operating appropriate?”. Whether we answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’, plans for improvement will necessarily flow.




The third idea considered in this article – intrapreneurship – walks hand-in-hand with our first two ideas. The more effective the teaming, the greater the interdependence, the more critical it is that team members be prepared to take on the increased challenge and responsibility. Bringing to large organisations, as they ‘flatten’ the hierarchy and devolve decision-making power, entrepreneurial spirit, flair, creativity and willingness to take risks become essential skills for managers and workers. Books about “Intrapreneurship” have indicated the importance of making traditional, top-heavy organisations more entrepreneurial. Tom Peters, during last year’s “Meet the Minds” satellite Seminar ranted passionately about the need to turn departments into independent profit-centres, to abolish all ‘jobs’ and turn them into projects, to let people shine


Today’s move towards intrapreneurial teaming is caused by the realisation that teaming provides a way to achieve organisational goals in a fast-changing market-place more productively, while also meeting the fast-changing needs of the workforce. What makes intrepreneurial teams different from most teams? They are teams which have worked their way painfully up the interdependence continuum and find themselves operating at the 60% to 100% levels. Either on their way towards becoming, or already, self-directing, they have improved their effectiveness to the extent that they are able to:


*   share management functions, and plan and control their own work processes

*   become actively involved in the process of continuous improvement

*   hire their own replacements and discipline their members and prepare budgets

*   take responsibility for the quality of their efforts, set goals and check their work

*   create their own schedules and review their performance as a group

*   coordinate work with other departments, order materials and keep inventories

*   acquire any training they might need

*   encourage members to cooperate, share information and be flexible

*   offer fulfillment different from that of traditional organisations


As indicated earlier, these new developments, taken seriously by most large American corporations already, point to major implications for today’s executives. The question is clearly not “To Team or not to Team?”, and perhaps it is insufficient to ask merely “Can we team better?”  Nowadays we need also to ask ourselves “Am I ready to experiment with these ideas?” Here’s wishing you the best of luck in cutting and polishing these three inter-related facets of the organisational effectiveness diamond!


Copyright   Michael Harpham   Symfonys Group   1997

© 2004 SYMFONYS Group     Updated 23 October 2004