Should We Rethink the Promise of Teams? — HBS Working Knowledge

Teamwork is changing in an environment where more people are working remotely or are less consistently in touch with those on whom they depend to get the work done. Nonetheless, teamwork is still an effective tool for creativity and synergy in organizations large and small. In a recent issue of Harvard Business School’s “Working Knowledge,” Professor Jim Heskett looks at some of the these factors in recent research on team work.

We live in the age of transparency, open work spaces, co-location, and collaboration. An entire generation is being prepared to enter workplaces like this, organizations that reward extroverts who show initiative in stepping forward to shape the nature of the conversation of work and the ideas it generates.

The work they do will be carried out in groups ranging from assigned teams to fluid groups engaged in what Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson, in the recent book ‘Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy, calls “teaming,” defined as “coordination and mutual adjustment during episodes of interdependent work.”

Teaming is a process by which participants and entire organizations learn and innovate while carrying out day-to-day assignments. Increasingly, Edmondson maintains, coordination and collaboration are occurring in temporary groups requiring teaming skills, rather than in traditional stable, well-designed teams that rely on managers’ abilities to form and lead them.

Leading business schools honor such behavior. At Harvard Business School, one of the first things new MBA candidates experience is introduction to their pre-selected Learning Team, whom they will work on an almost daily basis through much of at least one year. It’s an essential element of a program that places special emphasis on, and rewards, verbal contributions to classes as well as leadership of teamwork both inside and outside the classroom.It is not an environment that rewards introverts.(Most conversations between faculty and failing MBA students are about helping the students overcome their fears of engaging in classroom discussion, to improve the frequency of their classroom contributions.)

Teams comprising both extroverts and introverts, particularly those with diverse backgrounds, have been shown to have a lot of creative potential if managed properly. But Cain’s argument is that, as a society, extroversion is encouraged, developed, and recognized in so many ways that introverts—with their abilities to work alone, sometimes focusing on complex problems, not relying on feedback from others—may have fewer opportunities to shape creative solutions.

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