The right (and wrong) time to embrace teamwork in the office

August 12, 2015, 3:30 PM UTC
Photograph by Pete Duvall — The Hitachi Foundation

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you build a strong team? is written by Barbara Dyer, president and CEO of The Hitachi Foundation.

I am all for building strong teams, but in today’s business environment teamwork is not always the answer. Why? Because some companies are simply not suited for a team structure. No amount of team-building exercises can overcome the challenges an organization faces when it is better structured with a strong line of authority or tight role differentiation by specialization. Building effective teams is hard work, so only go down that path if the conditions make good business sense. To determine if the teams approach is best, consider these questions:

  • Is the quality of the products and/or services you offer likely to be enhanced by a team approach?
  • Is product innovation critical to your company’s success?
  • How essential are speed and reliability at competitive price points to your customers?

See also: How horses taught this CEO to be a better leader

Your organization is probably not in a good position to build strong teams if it has a deeply ingrained top-down structure or if work is organized in specialized, separate divisions. Also consider if managers have a tough time letting go of responsibility or if talent development is tied to product/service enhancements. However, if your company culture does reinforce teamwork, here are some ways to ensure your team thrives:

  • Management sets high standards of excellence, clarifies goals and expectations. They honor the team process through coaching, but otherwise get out of the way.
  • Teams know their goals and operate within tangible, measurable targets and timetables.
  • Teams have explicit authority to request resources to succeed.
  • Team members are supported with skills-training and cross-training so that they can do their best work and contribute their individual strengths to the overall success of the team.
  • Teams are rewarded for success and the rewards are meaningful and timely.

Basically it comes down to knowing your goals and what organizational configuration will achieve the best results. If teams are not essential to results, you may not have sufficient fuel to fire-up a team approach.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How do you build a strong team?

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The easiest way to reduce employee turnover by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

3 misconceptions about leading a successful team by Samantha Dwinell, vice president of talent management at Texas Instruments.

How to build a strong team without micromanaging by Sally Blount, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Here’s the secret to getting better employees by Julia Hartz, co-founder and president of Eventbrite.

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