Hands up if you’ve heard of the Monkeysphere?

OK, hands down, you look silly staring at the screen of your computer/phone/tablet/other as-yet-to-be-invented device with your hand in the air, like a primary school child needing a wee.

The Monkeysphere is based on neurological research. The theory says that there is only room in a primate brain for around 150 other primates. Beyond that, and primates (chimps, lemurs, people) can’t really keep track.

If your organisation is bigger than 150 people, then those people may, therefore, struggle to engage with it. They stop seeing it as a group of fellow primates and more as an amorphous, intangible mass.

Some companies have a maximum operating unit size of around 150. If they get too big, then they are split up. Gore and Semco are two examples, and there are more.

Most other companies can’t (or won’t) do that – but it is impossible to operate in large groups, and most organisations operate in smaller units, breaking down to a team.

I’ve worked in teams of 2, and teams of 20+. My personal view that anything bigger than 10-12 is too big, anything less than 5-6 is too small. Whatever their size, however, the important thing is to make sure that they operate as a team.

After ensuring personal effectiveness of all your people, team effectiveness is most important in delivering organisational effectiveness. Again, a personal opinion, but one based on many years of experience, study and research – an informed opinion (rather than a humble one).

Anyway, the tools and techniques used to measure personal and organisational effectiveness and culture can also be applied to teams. You can check how effective they are, show them, and then work with them to help them get better.

One tool I have used with great success is based on a survival simulation. Your team is put in an imaginary situation where they are presented with options – they are then given a timescale to decide about the various options and say how they would act. They record their answers individually and then as a team.

You then run a questionnaire to check the experience of the various members of the team – and it’s also important to observe how they went about things.

After this you give them the real answers – prepared by an appropriate expert. From the differences between their personal and team decisions and the “right” answers you can see how effective thy would be – as a team or as individuals.

I like the survival simulations because they are usually fun, and are relatively safe. You can run business simulations (or even use a real example, although it is tricky to get a “right” answer and check the effectiveness), but these tend to be a bit too close to home and people are less likely to make any decisions, in my experience. Survival situations are less prone to people worrying about getting the wrong answer and looking daft.

The feedback you get back is rich. Even without using the full tool, good observation can give really useful insight. In one session I ran, every member of the team but one huddled together at one end of the table. The individual at the other end then criticised the decision making, saying “you did this, you did that” – “you”, not “we”. They were meant to be a team, in it together to survive. Just pointing out that behaviour caused a number of pennies (and the odd jaw) to drop, and helped that team make a breakthrough.

Like all development, teams need to work, re-visit their development and make sure that changes have been made and are still effective. It’s a process that should continue through the life of the team, and especially as new members come in and out. My take on teams is as follows.

1) In teams, diversity is strength. Everyone should bring their own strength to the group, and everyone should be willing, able and ready to use the strengths of others to make up for their own weaknesses. Tools such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator ™ are great for understanding how people like to work and how you can galvanise diversity.

2) Dialogue always beats debate. Dialogue is about bringing ideas together to make something new and better with those ideas. Debate is about one side proving its view of things is right, and the other side is wrong. Imagine how our country would be if we had parliamentary dialogues, rather than debates.

3) As a team, you can do things by consensus, or by consent. Consensus means everyone has to be happy with everything, which can lead to a more contented team, but also to watered-down and less effective solutions. Consent means giving permission for people to lead the team in a certain direction, even if not everyone is convinced that is the way to go. What you lose in comfort you can gain in innovation and effectiveness.

Looking at team effectiveness in these areas is a great way to start to build a team development plan, and then check the progress of the plan once it’s in place. If you fancy a go, give me a shout.