photo of a group of five people's shadows
PHOTO: Merritt Brown

Other than simple reports on digital team size and number of messages shared, the team-level analytics currently available are rudimentary at best. My previous article on building effective digital teams examined research my company, Swoop Analytics, did on over 1,300 self-declared digital teams across several organizations using the Workplace by Facebook platform. The average membership from these "teams" was nearly 300 and therefore, most could not be considered real teams. Nevertheless, one would expect that many, in spite of their size, are gaining value from their use of the digital platform. 

In this article I identify a method we have developed to classify these groups into Team Level Personas. The idea is that by identifying a team with a team type classification, you are in a better position to judge whether the team is appropriately configured to deliver on their team purpose and objectives.

What Makes a Team?

It's fair to say enterprises apply the term “team” quite loosely. In many cases the hope is the label alone will magically result in higher levels of trust, cooperation and collaboration.

Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith addressed these issues in their best-selling book on "The Wisdom of Teams," first published in 1993 in the pre-digital team age. They found that “in high-performance teams, the role of the team leader is less important and more difficult to identify because all members lead the team at different times.” These self-directed teams have today become "Team Nirvana" — in most cases more of an aspiration than a reality. That said, in a follow-up handbook, “The Discipline of Teams” (2001), Katzenbach and Smith identified three core types of groups/teams:

Work Group

Sits within the formal hierarchy, inheriting the roles, performance objectives and work principles from the formal departmental charter.

Single-Leader Discipline

The group is coordinated by a single leader. Individuals are accountable for their own performance only. The leader is accountable for the group’s performance.

Real-Team Discipline

Leadership migrates across the team as context demands. Work products are both individual and collective. Shared accountability for team results.

Katzenbach and Smith found that each of these group types generated value, and that contexts exist where each of these structures would be the best choice. On the "Real-Team Discipline" they state, “Goals of groups using the team discipline are set and affirmed individually and collectively by the group. This process differs from the characteristic, one-on-one negotiation between each member and the leader in the single-leader discipline.” They then claim the Real-Team Discipline is the only discipline that can effectively deliver on an organization’s most challenging contexts, like a major business transformation, innovation and/or key marketplace challenge.

Related Article: Are People Analytics the Answer to Your Employee Engagement Woes?

What About Digital Teams?

With the advent of teams platforms like Microsoft Teams, Slack and Workplace by Facebook, teams are now becoming a digital mirror of the analogue teams they support. Unlike colocated teams, digital teams on average are much larger, with less than 5% of the teams we analyzed having less than the recommended team size of fewer than 10 members. However, these larger groups are still likely contributing either as work groups, single leader groups, communities of practice or even forums, despite being self-labelled as teams. With this in mind, we identified three social networking factors that could draw a distinction between the above group types or personas:

  1. Single leader. We labelled this the "Key Player Dependency." 
  2. Whether a core exists, either as a single leader or a tightly connected core of members.
  3. The number of relatively inactive members. We labelled them the "Gallery."

Using these three factors we designed the following classification rules that characterized those four team personas — work groups, single leader groups, communities of practice, forums — with the addition of a persona we labelled the "Disconnected," for groups with no identifiable core.

  Persona: Forum Persona: Single Leader Team Persona: Community of Practice Persona: Self-Directed Team Persona: Disconnected Group
 Factor 1: Key Player Dependency: Single Leader or Self-Directed Teams  High  High  Low  Low  Low
 Factor 2: Core or No Core  —  —  High  High  Low
 Factor 3: Gallery or No   Gallery  High  Low  High  Low  —

To better illustrate the different team personas the following teams were selected from our data set as best illustrating each persona:

Team Persona  Team Connections Map  Commentary 
Self-Directed Team  
team connections map for self-directed teams
This team shows, with the exception of 1 member, team members mostly connected by reciprocated connections (red links). This level of connectivity is required to achieve self-direction and ‘true’ team performance.
Note: the size of the circle shows the relative connectivity of each team member
Single Leader Team
team connections map for single leader team
 
The single leader team identifies one member who is substantially more connected than any others (implied leader). The connections pattern and larger group size suggests a ‘work group’ aligned with the formal hierarchy.
Community of Practice  
team connections map for community of practice
The community of practice is characterized by a small interconnected core (3 members in this case), who facilitate a gallery of members looking to learn from the best practices assembled by the core.
This type of group is better hosted on an enterprise social platform.
Forum  
team connections map for forum
The Forum is characterized by dominant single leader connecting with a large gallery of largely inactive members.
Forums are also better hosted by a digital forum or enterprise social platform.
Disconnected Group  
team connections map for non-teams
Groups who do not exhibit either a dominant single leader or a connected core are arguably not groups at all. This group identifies separate cliques or factions which would need to be brought together to form a cohesive group or team.

Related Article: Is Your Digital Team Too Big, Too Small or Just Right?

Picking Out the Teams in the Personas 

Digital team platforms are creating a boom in digital teaming. These platforms provide few constraints or guidance on team productivity. Team level analytics are mostly limited to the number of members and crude activity measures, which provide no insight into accepted team productivity factors of high trust, cooperation and collaboration.

Using relationship-centered social analytics can identify "real" self-directed teams as well as identify other team-level personas. Through such insights, team leaders and participants can better understand whether their current configurations are helping or hindering their ability to deliver on their group purpose and objectives.

Beyond the individual team, we are now seeing conversations about teaming structures labelled the “Team of Teams,” popularized by General Stanley McChrystal from his experiences in Afghanistan. But I’ll leave how one can measure and monitor a digital team of teams structure for a later article.