Team or Just a Structure
In the summer of 2012 one of the professors at INSEAD questioned the use of emotional statements to draft values in organizations by management controllers to manage the corporations. Example, our core value is Team play. His argument was that organization run on structures and hierarchy, role distribution and accountability linked to payment for the services rendered. A football team can run a team because they collaborate to win and there is no hierarchy, only role distribution on a flat surface. The conclusion was to call spade a spade and design a strong organization structure and call it a structure.
I was not really convinced, probably because in my 20 year or so career at the time, I saw Team Value a thousand times on various walls as a corporate value.
As an evolution of mankind from hunter gatherer where roles were distributed to achieve the objective of survival, whatever was secured, gathered or killed during the day was shared by the tribe, around the fire, in evening. Team structure was prevailing.
With the innovation of agriculture and advancement in tools to kill animals easily and in excess of the tribes daily need, a new problem emerged called ownership or wealth. Team gave way to a power structure.
Watching the partnership firms and family business disputes carefully, a pattern emerges that family or partners are always together during the initial days or years when there is a question of survival, when there is no excess. The moment there is excess or wealth is created, someone would initiate a question of ownership of excess. Team scumbs to a power structure and disputes.
One of the experienced owner of a private equity firm shared his experience that it is always easy to keep partners when you are struggling but when a big deal is done, and money is in, ego takes shape. Same partner who was writing rules about the importance of working together, would see that he worked far harder, better and smarter to deserve a larger share. That is why probably, the big four audit firms end up drawing complicated rules of partnership, where actually it is not a team of partners but a structure to distribute the excess.
On the other end there is another problem when there is shortage or team is in survival stage. One of the player would make a killing and run away with it or hide it somewhere to prosper quietly. This is done by the naughty team member by running a parallel business quietly or allocating time for an objective which is not the common objective of the team and leave or exit once the objective matures.
One of the special category or organization which is really a team, is probably a unit of soldiers. That is the only exception where they even give up their lives for protecting the power structure somewhere at the very top. Their objective is neither profit nor survival. One of my good friend in Indian Airforce explained that it is all about ones unit, Camaraderia, a strong feeling of saving each other life in ones unit and completing the mission.
In the new era as the society is more disintegrated and technology is taking over the propellers of demand and supply matching, it is a question of time where the labor force would be organized by pay per unit or demand rather than structures. Airbnb and uber type models are good examples of free structures.
As leaders, strategist, HR heads, where we are organizing to distribute the fruits of an economic activity, is not it better to create strong logical and fair structures and hierarchy and not use too many adjectives on the corporate walls to say otherwise. Afterall the economic benefits and bonuses are a close guarded secret and not a team thing.
With a little more experience now, I tend to agree with the prof that one should call spade a spade and org structure a structure - & not a team.