5 Ways To Reduce Team Complexity

Dec 16, 2013
5 Min Read

Many companies find that teams are important because the collective intelligence of the group can drive more innovative, creative and strategic results.

Unfortunately, sometimes a team’s collective intelligence seems to go awry and instead leads to chaos, back-biting, failure and threats of bodily harm.

Such results are not desirable, of course, but that’s what can happen when teams don’t keep things simple. By reducing complexity, teams are better positioned to achieve desired results with greater efficiency (and less bloodshed).

Here are some ways that teams can reduce complexity:

  1. Establish clear goals. Teams need to avoid the kitchen-sink approach of trying to be everything to everyone. Christopher Avery, author of “Teamwork is an Individual Skill,” advocates that each team member must agree on the shared purpose of why the team exists and what it wants to accomplish. “When groups pursue a direction determined by majority or authority, those who dissent (either vocally or silently) can lose energy,” he says. He suggests asking, “How can we change this proposal so that it works for you?” as a way to reach a clear goal that gets the buy-in of everyone.

Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith have written about what makes good teams work, and they note in the Harvard Business Review that the best operating teams “also translate their common purpose into specific performance goals, such as reducing the reject rate from suppliers by 50% or increasing the math scores of graduates from 40% to 95%.”

  1. Get rid of a wish list.  If it’s key, keep it. If not, get rid of it. Having too many things on a team’s plate can be demoralizing when all the objectives can’t be achieved.
  2. Don’t make assumptions. Just because a team worked well one time in one situation does not mean that team will be similarly successful the next time. Or, that combining successful teams will lead to twice the results. Wharton University research shows that having more than eight or nine people on a team can lead to the formation of sub-groups, which can undermine the team’s goal. That many people can also lead to goofing around of some members who find it easier to hide among such a large group.
  3. Don’t over-rely on technology. You can get caught up in the bells and whistles instead of focusing on the problem and solution. There are many apps designed to improve communications, the sharing of ideas, managing projects, etc., but nothing can replace team members sitting down together and hashing out ideas. Part of the monitoring process should include an ongoing review of technology to ensure it’s keeping things simple – not adding complexity.
  4. Welcome a naysayer.  Team diversity can lead to better results, and fair and honestfeedback can be crucial to success.  Team members who don’t challenge one another can lead to lackluster results, a failure to spot errors and a goal that becomes fuzzy.

But at the same time, teams should not welcome naysayers who are simply throwing a wrench into the works because they can.  “If someone is neurotic, easily agitated, worries a lot, has a strong temper — that is bad for the team,” says Wharton University management professor Katherine J. Klein. What you want are those who may express different opinions, but are emotionally stable and willing to work toward the group’s goal, she says.

What are some other ways to reduce team complexity?

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