The reason teams became so popular in the 1980s is that when they work, they really work. Great teams can generate creative solutions to complex problems as well as rewarding experiences of camaraderie and challenge for employees. Unfortunately, even high-performing teams incur costs. Looking ahead to the post-pandemic future, the authors foresee the stressors managers have faced since the beginning of the crisis continuing to mount, which means it’s time to reassess when and how to use teams in organizations. One solution is to step down from “true teams” to the use of “co-acting groups”: loose confederations of employees who dip in and out of collaborative interactions as a project or initiative unfolds. The authors discuss the upsides and downsides and present several principles for effective co-acting groups.
We love teams. We really do. Between the two of us, we’ve spent more than 40 years studying, teaching about, and coaching teams in organizations — which is why we’re surprised to find ourselves writing an article in which we question whether teams are as practical or as necessary to knowledge work as they once were.