Does your team actually exist?

In the last post we began to explore different perspectives for looking at teams. We countered the oft quoted idea that there is no ‘I’ in team. We explained why, in fact, a team is full of ‘I’s and why that is relevant for leaders and organisations to be fully aware of. This is important because as the leader of a team, you need to be able to consider it in ways that will help you shape the culture of the team, help the individuals perform well, both when they are in the team and when representing your team out in the wider business or the market.

In this post we extend thinking about atypical views of teams, in service of helping key stakeholders within organisations and senior leaders, be able to adopt alternative views to the ‘received wisdom,’ to enable the building of high performing teams that deliver impacts to your organisation more certainly and more quickly.

No longer alone

I have long felt that in fact there is no such thing as a team. Maybe a bit of a radical position to hold for someone who is a team coach (!) but it just never made sense to separate a team as if it exists separate to the individual members of it. I hope to encourage you at least to entertain the possibility for a short while (or just to humour me!)

Let’s do a thought experiment that I hope will demonstrate why I get a trifle irked about the idea: Imagine there are the eight people from your functional team having a meeting in an office.  The fire alarm goes off and all eight of you have to leave the room. What is left? Well, apart from the chairs and probably some over-stewed coffee in a pot: Nothing. Assuming nobody picked up ‘Team” and took it to the Assembly Point, there is no independent thing left in the room. No object, however ethereal, exists outside of the people who just left the room. There is no team.

Falling scales from my eyes

The construct of a team, like an organisation, or a society, is manufactured and does not map effectively to the complexity and unpredictable nature of not just one, but many, human-beings in a collective setting. What does this tell us about the nature of a team? It suggests that there is at least one alternative way of viewing a team that is not deeply rooted in the idea of an independent body called a team. If we adopt such a view, it is clear that a team is not in fact a system that can be altered, adapted and improved (because it doesn’t exist!)  

And just as I thought my view of a team (henceforth, ‘team’) was yet another perspective held only by me, I discovered a fantastic academic article by Paul Lawrence, explaining this very idea. He even has a term for this view of ‘teams’: Meta-systemic. Phew! So, it turns out I’m not in a minority of one! 

Systems and meta-systems

Before we look at the meta-systemic idea in a little more detail, it is worth understanding a bit about what it means to take a systemic approach to teams. There are hundreds of systems theories, with most originating since the 1950s after numerous papers were published by biologists, economists, and engineers (Stacey & Mowles, 2016). Three lines of thought evolved together (general systems theory, cybernetic systems, and systems dynamics), impacting various disciplines, including management theory.

In brief, systems theory as it relates to teams, would suggest the team is an in tact, stand-alone system with a boundary between the team and everything that is not-the-team. Systems theory would suggest it is possible to deploy a diagnostic tool to the team to understand its functioning. A team coach, coming to help the team improve performance, would stand outside or apart from the team. Thinking systemically may weight the importance of the ‘unit’ too heavily and ignore or pay insufficient attention to ‘beyond-the-boundary’ elements, such as key stakeholders, or customers, which are likely of key import to the business.  

No team, no boundary. Just people.

The meta-systemic view of ‘teams’ is one of interactions between human beings, where there is no boundary to a team, therefore, no inside the team nor outside the team. The central organising activity is not management of the system but encouraging of conversations, relationships and shared meaning. Any team coach coming to help would become part of the ‘team’ because they form relationships with the individual members of the team and then co-create meaning. 

The composition of the team is also constantly in flux. One can make a case that as soon as one person in a ‘team’ changes, then you have a wholly new ‘team.’ The result is that leaders and team coaches would not work with the ‘team’ on a pre-set range of activities – to do so would be to operate as if there could be a Haynes manual for ‘teams’ i.e. a predictable way to build high performing ‘team’s from a set of instructions that are based on a set of pre-ordained ‘must dos’. 


Why is this any of this valuable? Leaders (and team coaches) can now think of the ‘team’ they are working with as social constructs. Also, the meta-systemic view enables leaders to understand better why individuals often fail to lock onto imposed norms in the ‘team’ e.g. ‘team’-level values, because the ‘team’ is effectively not a thing, separate from the individuals and the relationships and conversations they have across the collective. 

We enable your organisation to achieve individual and collective transformation goals quickly and confidently, whether you require support for senior leaders, executive teams, or large cohorts of mission critical managers.

When you want to know more just click here to contact us and we’ll get straight back to you.


  1. Самые актуальные новинки подиума.
    Все мероприятия всемирных подуимов.
    Модные дома, бренды, гедонизм.
    Новое место для трендовых хайпбистов.

  2. Абсолютно стильные новости индустрии.
    Важные мероприятия мировых подуимов.
    Модные дома, бренды, высокая мода.
    Лучшее место для модных хайпбистов.

  3. Самые трендовые новости индустрии.
    Исчерпывающие эвенты мировых подуимов.
    Модные дома, бренды, haute couture.
    Самое лучшее место для трендовых людей.

  4. Наиболее трендовые новости моды.
    Актуальные эвенты всемирных подуимов.
    Модные дома, лейблы, гедонизм.
    Новое место для модных людей.

  5. Абсолютно стильные события мировых подиумов.
    Все эвенты лучших подуимов.
    Модные дома, бренды, гедонизм.
    Самое лучшее место для модных хайпбистов.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *