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Team or No Team?

I have worked in, and with, the pharmaceutical industry for over 40 years, 30 years as a full-time employee and now 11 as an external team development consultant. The word ‘team’ is used routinely in the industry for groups of people working together whether they be sales teams, account teams, management teams, marketing teams, cross functional brand teams, medical teams etc. The challenge is that in these 41 years of being in, and working with, so called teams, and of actually leading so-called teams, I have come across very many true teams! Let me explain a bit more.

I have always believed in that the definition of a team is simply that it is a group of people working closely together to deliver mutual goals and fulfil a specific purpose. The key here, is the word, ‘mutual’ and this is where a lot of so-called pharma teams are simply working groups despite them always being called teams. If you are going to call yourself a team then, for me, you have to satisfy the following criteria.

1. Everyone in the group fully understands, ‘buys’ into, and is committed to the specific team purpose.

2. Everyone fully understands exactly what the specific goals of the team are and how the realisation or achievement of these goals ensures the team purpose is fulfilled.

3. Everyone fully understands the importance of their role and how it specifically contributes to achievement of the specific team goals.

4. Everyone in the team is interdependent and dependent on each individual team member fulfilling their role and achieving their individual objectives.

5. Each team member’s measurement is a combination of achievement of their individual objectives and that of the achievement of the team goals.

6. Everyone in the team feels ‘psychologically safe’ and is involved in decision making and problem solving.

7. Frequent sharing of the learning of success and failure is commonplace so that skills and knowledge are continuously developed.

Now, I could expand on these points and add in others, but let’s just keep it to those 7 and let me give you a couple of examples of so-called teams that I was a member of.

Team 1: Team Purpose was never discussed and as a result when team members were asked the question, ‘what is the team purpose’? there was a range of different answers, each varying considerably. The goals of the team were fully understood by the manager but the team members only understood their own individual goals and objectives. Team members did understand their role but as there was no measure on team achievement, only individual achievement, then there was little interest in other team members’ roles including that of the team manager. There was little interdependency and as a result very little sharing of success and failure took place. In fact, there was a reluctance to share information given the level of competition within the team. The team did feel ‘psychologically safe’ as the team manager was open and inclusive but a lack of structured team processes (such as productive meetings, specific development time and a team charter) ensured that there remained a very individual approach to the work being undertaken. This was not a team of people working towards a common purpose and goals and interdependent of each other, this was simply a group pf people working to their own individual objectives with the team manager hoping that the ‘sum of the individual performances’ would come together to hit the team goals. This is not a team and should not be called a team. It is a working group. Now how many sales or account teams are currently working like this? Too many and they don’t really deserve to be called teams.

Team 2: This team gained a new manager. The manager talked a great game about team development and promised a development day to ‘kick off’ the ‘new’ team. The new manager set the objectives of the day and gave the team a series of exercises to complete which when completed would result in greater awareness of the team’s individual styles, and strengths. This, despite the team having worked together for some time, was looking promising, however the manager then left the team ‘to it’ and made their excuses about having to attend another meeting. But they would be back at lunchtime to view their outputs and feedback. To cut a long story short, when they returned, they didn’t contribute to the task (and hence did nothing to raise the team’s awareness of the manager) and used the afternoon to outline what the team goals were, and what each team member had to do to play their part. The challenge was that the previous manager had the team members working in small project groups and so were interdependent of each other and the groups were created to maximise each team member’s strengths. Individual actions were transparent and regular feedback was encouraged through regular review of project progression. The new manager didn’t like individuals working together in groups as they felt that the projects could be run by individuals and this also ensured that everyone’s individual performance was fully transparent and that there was ‘nowhere to hide.’ Divide and conquer was this new manager’s mantra. ‘Psychological safety’ was now diminished in the team due to this individualistic approach, (again no team measure) and further diminished due to a micro-management approach which limited joint decision making and curtailed open debate and discussion. In a very short time, this new manager had turned a dynamic team into a disgruntled group of individuals. This was no longer a team in the true sense.

You might say ‘so what’s in a name?’ but if your so-called ‘team’ does not have a joint purpose and has its members focused solely on individual tasks and objectives, with no measure on the achievement of the team goals, then stop calling them a team – they are a working group – nothing else. By calling it a team you are lulling yourself into a false sense of security and you may not put the actual effort and expertise into all the various essential aspects of ensuring team performance. If you are still determined to call it a team then you must make sure you put in place all the essential performance criteria that makes it a team. Otherwise, you are simply kidding yourself and missing a huge ‘performance’ trick! Relying on simply the ‘sum’ of individual performances may not allow the team to fully realise its full potential and by consequence limit the organisation’s true potential. It's time to rethink your approach.

There are a number of very cost-effective Team Manager developmental resources now available to support you in your quest to truly be that ‘Successful Team Manager.’ You can view and access these at:

TEAM-XL online Team Assessment – Allows the team to feedback on strengths and development areas and gets them discussing their development towards high performance. TEAM-XL | PARTNERS Team Dev (

The PARTNERS ‘Action Plan’ for Team Managers – A DIY Guide to getting your team performing.

The book, ‘Team Champion - Taking Teamwork Seriously” -

The Online PARTNERS Team Development Course – A healthy blend of video lectures and questions to get you thinking.

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