Assess Teamwork

This application incorporates sense-making software to help teams self-index the value streams that are continuously operating as conscious and unconscious patterns of interaction. This helps teams better understand organizational life and enables double-loop learning.


Today people are interested in agile teams and the power of self-organization for several key reasons:

  1. There is greater "buy-in" when teams are driven by their own sense of purpose and meaning.
  2. There is a significant reduction in management costs, and reduction in management-level complexity resulting in lean organizations.
  3. Self-organization allows cross-functional teams to fully integrate as a team, which means they become agile, responsive and adaptive to rapidly changing demands -- they are less reactive and more innovative.

There is a classic dilemma in economic theory that says "if you optimize for the part, you sub-optimize for the whole; and if you optimize for the whole you sub-optimize for the part." This creates a paradox in organizational life between the individual as part of a team, and teams as part of the organization.  This paradox is addressed in the way we apply open participatory principles to teamwork.

Thinking in terms of open participation of many individuals and their local interactions, means we can steer clear of big abstract level thinking like cybernetics or general systems dynamics. Instead we are proposing that it is more valuable to think about what people actually do in their ordinary interactions at work. What we see is that people are naturally self-organizing their work, setting roles and objectives, and responding to shifting power relationships. We want to understand how this happens in teams, and why individuals and their teams often operate outside of their "official scripts." We want to understand why so much of what is happening inside really effective teams, like agile teams, is outside the formal descriptions of roles and hierarchical authority.

This APP for team assessment is consistent with a theory of human interaction called complex responsive processes, based on the work of Ralph Stacey, who is the director of the innovative Doctor of Management programme at the University of Hertforshire; and his associate Chris Mowles, who is the professor of Complexity and Management there. We are happy to have found such solid academic literature to ground our application which originally developed out of own research and practice. Therefore we feel we are able to offer clients the core benefits of their programme without having to delve fully into the theory, by employing our practical applications.

Our approach considers that collective action emerges from the interplay of autonomy, relatedness and agency. In all group process we see that each person is simultaneously trying to establish their own unique identity in the group (that's the autonomy part) as well as trying to relate to each other in a way that creates a sense of group coherence (the relatedness part). Collective agency comes into play when people organize to distribute work load-- whether that means coordinating their physical bodies or collaborating on cognitive tasks. All team dynamics can be understood and modeled based on the interplay of these three "domains." People are relating through intentional-motivational drives which we experience as affective tone, or feelings, and which is how we come to see ourselves as part of a team. People are in a continuous process of creating a sense of self-identity which they come to know as their own particular contribution or role, and which shifts and transform in response to continuously shifting team dynamics. In the process, team members set objectives that are made explicit so they can be coordinated or so that people can collaborate to reach a certain performance goal.

It turns out we can assess for individual competencies in these three domains --autonomy, relatedness and agency. We found we can use sense-making software that allows people to self-index them in the stories they tell and narratives they hold. The software uses a semantic search function that can identify and categorize semantic content according to the three domains, based on value-laden meanings.

Autonomy, in this case, is defined as those values that correlate with self-reliance, being self-directed, taking ownership of one's behavior, being self-motivated, confident, and conscious of one's own reasons and choices (i.e. not being driven by unconscious forces, or reactive to unconscious triggers and defense mechanisms. Relatedness in this APP correlates to how broad a range of relationships I can enter into-- can I be mentor and student, nurturer and disciplinarian, supporter as well as critic, stand by someone, stand behind someone, take a stance against someone. Agency means being able to achieve in the objective world one's intentions, desires, choices, aspirations and goals-- to make things and to make things happen.

This sense-making software gives teams a visualization of their "participatory potential," which is the degree in which their intentional values (relatedness), self-identities (autonomy) and agency overlap. This overlap is visualized as a two dimensional region we call "the participatory space." The larger the region, the more participatory potential the team has. While getting the right team may be a matter of mixing and matching the right mix of perspectival diversity, expertise, and cross-functionality, getting your team right is a matter of cultivating a larger participatory space and developing greater potential for participation.

To take it one step further, with this APP we can get a visualization of the kinds of action-logics that emerges only at the collective level through a sophisticated model of collective enaction that translates individual assessments into different kinds of collective intelligences. This means that we can tell what kinds of performance outcomes would be expected from different teams.

Our team application is also a facilitation tool to help teams create a better understanding of self-organization, a better grasp of who to work with conflict, tension and anxiety-- by seeing them as authentic dynamics in complex responsive processes of human interaction. This is only the beginning. Team APPs can help teams learn how to work with different phases of group dynamics to stay agile and to work with strategic choice as an emergent property of their team dynamics.