How often have you heard of a company that functions like a TEAM? Most people that say they are working with, or on, a TEAM are actually part of a COMMITTEE.

A number of years ago, prior to starting my first business, I was recruited by a corporation to turn around their largest division. After first declining the opportunity, the CEO and Chairman asked me to meet with them at the corporate offices in Kansas City. We met for six hours, visited two offices in Kansas and Missouri, they introduced me to the corporate officers and we dined at a great Kansas City steakhouse where I had one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten. Throughout the day, the CEO emphasized teamwork within the organization and repeatedly stated that their team was like a big family.
After gaining a thorough understanding of the division that I would be leading, I bought into their promise of a family atmosphere and teamwork throughout the organization. After previously working in a family business with 500 employees, it appeared that this was a larger business of 5000 employees with a similar atmosphere of teamwork. I was wrong.

The initial sign appeared on my first day when the president flew from Kansas City to meet me at an off-site location in Philadelphia to provide some additional information that he and the CEO neglected to tell me during our previous discussions. It seemed that the person who I was replacing was still there. He was a 20 year employee of the company and was failing miserably. He was the reason that I was hired to restructure the troubled division. The company was in fear of losing several large government contracts and rather than reassigning my predecessor, the CEO advised him that they were sending in an experienced person to assist him in correcting the problems. Meanwhile, they told me that they were using this tactic as a way to help me get up to speed as quickly as possible and that it is up to me as to when my predecessor will be recalled to the corporate office. The transition window could range from one week two months. This was only the first sign that things were not as they were presented. I quickly learned that my predecessor lacked the knowledge and experience to perform the responsibilities of the position. Further, he had started two small businesses and was spending as much as 80% of his time on those businesses rather than in his position. After one week, I spoke with the CEO and my predecessor was quickly reassigned to his former position.

It was then when I realized that most people who speak of a business with a “family atmosphere” may actually be part of a dysfunctional family business and most people who feel that they are on a “team” are actually part of a “committee”. Allen Weiss describes the difference as follows: “in committees, various interests come together and share resources only if their own goals aren’t jeopardized. In true teams, resources are readily shared because goals can only be reached as a unit, not individually.” As an example, soccer is a team sport and during the World Cup soccer game between the US and UK, the UK goalkeeper made an error and the entire UK team suffered. Similarly, NASCAR is a team sport. If the crew chief makes an error in fuel calculations, if a crew member takes too long to replace a tire, or if the driver makes an error in judgment, the entire team will suffer. With committees, there are a variety of interests and the result of the posturing, positioning, pressuring and persuasion is rarely teamwork. Think of the politicians in Washington, DC and of recent spending bills that have passed. The cost of the final version of the bill is often inflated by as much as 50% due to the various interests of the politicians (committees) that were included in the bill in order to obtain a politicians vote in favor of the bill.

Dr. Weiss adds that “most teambuilding efforts fail because the effort is applied to a committee structure, which requires different interventions.”

Are you a facilitator of teamwork or of committees?

3 Responses to “Teams vs Committees”

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