Definition of Teams

As humans, we are really good in forming small intimate groups where we can trust each other and achieve complex goals.

Teams are a type of group defined by having clear boundaries and goals, maintaining their core members for a long period of time, and having a strong culture that outlives its members. Here, the focus is on long-lived, multi-project, product-focused, business and technology teams.

Teams are considered complex adaptive systems. This means that the interaction of its members create emergent team-level behaviours that are much more than the aggregation of individual behaviours. 

 

Teamwork
complex adaptive systems

Teams as complex adaptive systems

If we regard teams as monoliths, then all control and decision making is exercised top down. From this point of view, any creative freedom is regarded as a problem. 

However, teams are not monoliths. Even when small, they comprise of individuals who continuously recombine, adapt and transfer their experience to new situations, creating emerging behavioural patterns. Simple rules of interaction between individuals create complex dynamic behaviours.

Therefore teams can be better described as complex adaptive systems, where the focus is on identifying the constraints or minimum structure that will enable self-organisation and creativity. 

 

Triads as the basic building blocks of collaboration

There is a lot of research across different fields, from chemistry and science to music and sports, showing that triads constitute the basic building blocks of collaboration and harmony. For instance, in basketball (triangle offence)players combine in triangles, creating effective team dynamics that are not possible with dyads

Similarly, social network theory shows that the key characteristic of a social network is the tendency of people or groups of people to form triads. The main reason is that triads are more balanced than dyads and naturally absorb conflict.

When teams are initially formed, people often have no connection between them. Soon after, individuals start creating ties between them, forming open triads, where there is still some lack of communication. Gradually relationships form, and open triads become closed. Every closure sparks even more connections, creating new open triads, which in turn become closed. 

As such triads establish a minimum structure within teams and organisations.

 

Adaptive Triads

Team Size and Design

Teams comprise of individuals that interact with each other and give emergence to team behaviours. By constraining this interaction to 3 people at a time, we can enable high-performance. But we don’t recommend to have a team size of just 3 people because most probably such a team will not have enough skills to be autonomous and achieve complex goals.

Research has shown that the “ideal” team size is 5 (basketball team).  This shouldn’t be prescriptive but rather should be used more like a rule of thumb. 

Usually, when team size increases, communication complexity increases exponentially and team dynamics become problematic. It is better to have many small bounded teams rather than a few large teams. Teams of five create up to 10 overlapping triads between its members that can form a dense and at the same time resilient and flexible structure.

Adaptive Triads Framework

The Adaptive Triads Framework is recommended for efficient organisational design and structure. The goal of the Framework is to take advantage of our natural inclination to organise in threes. 

In essence, it recommends a minimum structure of collaboration. Ideally no more than 3 people or groups of people at any one time at any particular task, challenge or problem. This allows self-organisation, flexibility, and autonomy. 

Triads should be adaptive, not fixed or static. This means that people should keep forming new triads based on the problems they need to tackle. Organising in adaptive triads is a much more creative and resilient approach.

In a nutshell:
  1. Treat teams as complex adaptive systems, where team members follow simple collaboration principles to interact with each other, giving rise to emergent team behaviours.
  2. Simple collaboration principles help the team align in their approach without dictating specific actions. 
  3. External challenges”push” the team to dynamically adapt and self-organise.
  4. Prefer small teams of approximately 5 people who can continuously self-organise in different combinations of triads.
  5. Enable team self-organisation by constraining collaboration to triads – Ideally no more than 3 people working at any one time at any particular task, challenge or problem.
  6. Triads are adaptive and temporary based on the particular challenge.
  7. Lead the team through coaching instead of top-down management.

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