April 10, 2006

Team Tipping Points

Malcom Gladwell's book; "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference" presents a new way of understanding why change so often happens as quickly and as unexpectedly as it does." Gladwell shows how changes in behaviors and attitudes reach a critical mass or "tipping point "and can, as an example, increase or decrease the adoption of products.

The book is essential reading, but I think there is value in applying it to the topic of teams and team building. So the fundamental question is - do teams reach tipping points? In my experience they can and do...at least twice.

Whether we're in a team or managing one, we work towards a desired state of high performance and collaboration. This is when the first tipping point occurs. The second tipping point happens when the unit ceases to add value.

Often it's little things that push the team into and out of equilibrium. So how do you know when the team has reached a tipping point? The obvious indicator is increased performance when the group is optimized.

Here are some indicators of a pending downside tipping point:

  1. The team's output begins to wane and they don't take the work seriously;
  2. Team members that normally question direction and strategy, are quiet;
  3. The individuals that typically work past 5:00 PM to get things done are gone at 5:01 PM;
  4. You hear buzz that a term employee is about to resign.

If one or all are occurring, then you'll need to quickly identify the issues, resolve them and turnaround the team. Sometimes however, no matter how hard you try, the team heads towards breakup. Sometimes change is a good thing.

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