One of the presenting issues I encounter as an expert in organizational performance is the need for improved teamwork. That need may be for a sales team, a management group, or even the executives of an organization. Frequently, this need is, as I stated, just the presenting issue, and there are a lot of matters beneath the surface that need to be dealt with before we get to actually begin working on team effectiveness.

There are four conditions that I frequently come across:

The team is actually not a team, but rather, a committee. There is no value judgment here—both teams and committees are useful for different purposes. It’s just that they have operating principles and ought to be treated as such. The key to determining whether or not you have a team or a committee is the degree to which they all win or lose together.

When I work with organizations that want to improve teamwork, I try to get a clear understanding of the team structure. In most instances, what I find is that there is not actually a team in place. Instead what I see is a collection of professionals that have been put together, often loosely, to accomplish a goal or set of goals; the group may be cross functional in nature or they may be from the same discipline; they may be together for a single purpose and then disband or they may work together with no end in sight.

Regardless of the make up, the first step is to get clear on whether you have a team or a committee.

They confuse shared destiny with shared destination. One of the principal differences in the team and committee is the notion of shared destiny and shared destination.

Shared destiny allows for a common goal in which each person in the group does their part as an individual contributor to achieve that goal. One person may do a terrific job and another, a lousy job, but the goal may still be reached. Many sales “teams” are a good example of this where one person can over-achieve their quota and another fails to reach their quota and the overall target is still achieved. That really isn’t a team. It is kind of like celebrating individual statistics in a sport where winning is all that matters.

That doesn’t happen on a shared destiny team, where it requires everyone to do their part in order for the team to succeed. An R&D team on the other hand may exist in an environment where it needs everyone to succeed in doing their job, as the nature of their work is dependent on others. There is great power in shared destiny teams but they need to have interdependent goals on which to operate.

They fail to differentiate means and ends. Too often, however, leaders undertake the task of developing teams for the sake of doing so.

Teamwork is a means to an end, most often the achievement of some kind of result that would not be attainable without the combination of everyone doing his or her part. That end may be greater productivity, more profit, increased speed to market, or any other business outcome aided by teamwork.

One of my clients is a Fortune 100 financial institution and I was in a meeting where the CEO reminded a group of senior executives that they needed to work as a team to capture the profit dollars that were falling through the cracks of the organization’s (self constructed) silos. That required real teams that depended on one another in order to be successful with a clear result in mind. Teamwork is about results and good teams are laser focused on the right ones.

Operating principles and expectations are explicit, not tacit. When teams are successful they operate on a set of standards or a code that is clear to everyone on the team.

Teams get very focused on how they are going to operate, what acceptable performance looks like, and the expectations of each individual on the team. They are clear on roles and goals as well as how success is defined. This is a critical step in the team development process as it establishes the working culture for the team. On good teams, it is not left to chance.

There is a lot written about why teams fail, and I’d suggest to you that most of the teams that fail, aren’t really teams at all. Sometimes, that is the problem. Before you embark on forming a team, or if you are wondering why a team is not functioning, examine these conditions to see which are present and you may have your solution.

Edinger Consulting