Josh Shardlow Team : Web Production Tags : Web Development Management Rants

Project teams, conflict and my new desk

Josh Shardlow Team : Web Production Tags : Web Development Management Rants

We’ve recently moved desks with a view that doing so will enhance how we work together in teams.

It’s still early days and while we’re all still trying to figure out if we’re a winner or loser in the Great Desk Swap Lottery of 2015, early signs are that the move will engender a more cohesive team environment.

Working in teams is one of most enjoyable and challenging parts of producing websites and I’ve been reflecting on how team dynamics operate, how can those dynamics be managed/optimised to bring about the best outcomes for clients, while also allowing each team member to express their natural talent and enjoy their work.

In reading more on the topic, I came across some interesting research on organisational behaviour by Dr Mark de Rond that questioned the conventional wisdom/well-worn cliché that there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’. The study fieldwork had been conducted on groups operating under high-pressure such as army surgeons on the front lines of Afghanistan and posited that even highly effective teams are in some way dysfunctional.

How could that be? I’d always been comfortable with the notion that good teamwork was working together smoothly and getting the job done with minimal conflict? At a personal level, I’ve always felt disappointed with excessive conflict within teams in that conflict robs a team of productivity. But perhaps this has been an unfair assumption on my part, given that high performing teams usually comprise high performing individuals – each of whom brings with their talent a level of risk that, when properly managed can be harnessed into creative productivity.

“Sometimes tensions are best left alone because they exist quite naturally. . . .The teams I study are typically made up of people who are inherently competitive. That is how they got to where they are. To form them into a team and expect this need for rivalry to disappear is not realistic.” - Dr Mark de Rond

The study also raised some other interesting questions as to when it makes sense to sacrifice competence for likability, why the best teams are often under resourced and project problems arising even in the absence of conflict. There were no straight forward answers but the one theme that emerged was a questioning of the assumption that harmony is a prerequisite for performance. The links between harmony and performance are subtle, nuanced and not straight forward as one would initially think.

Indeed, this particular study of social psychology suggested that harmony is more likely a by-product of, rather than an attribute of high performance teams. It’s an interesting concept to consider while I’m settling into my new desk and will influence the approach I take to the future inevitability of team conflict in high pressure project environments.