Think ‘sequential’ teams

By Murali D|26th Jun 2013
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Search for ‘teams’ in Google News, and what you get at the top are stories about basketball and football, matches and rankings. “When we think of teams, we tend to picture the whole team working together, like a football team playing in a match. But there are sequential teams as well, whose skills are applied in a sequence. In this case, the team may not be physically working together in the same place,” writes John Adair in ‘Confucius on Leadership’ (www.panmacmillan.com).

When you stay in a hotel or hospital, for example, you meet the members of the team in sequence, he explains; you never see them all together. Imagine seeing your surgeon with a scalpel right at the reception! Reminds Adair, however, that we tend to judge a hotel or hospital team by its weakest link; that is, the one team member who treats you with discourtesy or incompetence, though the whole experience has been the result of many people working not as a daunting block but as individuals.

Would you believe that Confucius (551–479 BC), a Chinese philosopher, knew the value of sequential teamwork? An example that he gave, from his experience as a minister entrusted with diplomatic missions, is cited in the book thus: “In composing the text of a treaty, P’i Ch’en would write the draft, Shih Shu would make comments, Tzu-Yü, the master of protocol, would touch it up and Tzu-ch’an of Tung Li would make embellishments.”

Another example in Adair’s book is about what ancient China was famous for: Its unique translucent ceramics, known as porcelain. Some seventy sequential skills were employed in the manufacture and distribution of the sets of fine porcelain tableware produced in China, notes the author. He finds that similar sets of sequential skills were used in the casting of bronze bells and other objects – a flourishing industry in Confucian times. It was the mastery of complementary team-working skills deployed in sequence to produce an end product that gave China such an edge in early technology, concludes Adair.

Startups are about teams; and successful startups are about teams that work well, with complementary skills not caught in logjam, and with communication that flows to fill the information needs of the team members when they need it. Just where a solution such as of the Y Combinator-backed Kippt (www.kippt.com) comes in, with the clarion call, ‘Fix your workflow.’ This is a case of a startup nipping at the edges of big companies like Evernote, Pinterest, Google, and a host of productivity startups like Asana, Basecamp, and even Dropbox and Hipchat, writes Rebecca Grant in http://medcitynews.com/. “Its niche is bringing the best elements of all these products and bundling them into one cohesive, well-crafted service that specifically targets startups.”

In this context, a poster-able quote is of George Murray – that a sequence works in a way a collection never can.

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