The “Science” of Forming Teams

Teaming is the way in life, be it work or travel.

Henry Ford said on teaming:

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

People form teams – “organically” or “inorganically.” Organic team is formed after acquaintances, mutual liking and respect and when you discover a common purpose. Inorganic teams are created when you are put in teams by someone – mostly by your boss! You then adapt with members of the team. In such situations, communicating effectively between the team members is often the key to team’s success.

I have always enjoyed working in teams. Many of the missions I did for the World Bank (WB) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) have been enjoyable experiences. In these missions, I met experts with diverse cultural backgrounds and working styles. But much learning happened at the conversations at the bar over a glass of beer after returning from the day long meetings. Each one had an interesting story to tell. Finally, when the back to mission report was to be prepared, each one of us contributed his or her part to the team leader such that the final output looked seamless as if written by a single author. Missions on Industrial Pollution Control led by Bekir Onursal and those on integrated water resource development led by Rajagopal and Harshdeep at the WB will never be forgotten. While Bekir was an ardent record keeper and disciplined to the core,  Rajagopal spoke experience with wisdom and Harshdeep brought energy to the team with a  fountain of innovative ideas.

I also recall several missions I did with Dr Mohmed Zaman and Greg Guldin in Manila for the ADB. Three of us were working on a project on country safeguard systems and safeguard policy update (2009). While Zaman looked into involuntary resettlement (IR), Greg focused on Indigenous peoples (IP). I was tasked to look into the environment (ENV). Our teaming was wonderful. While we delivered reports to ADB, each one of us learnt a lot from each other. Personally, I discovered the interconnects between ENV, IR and IP.

In one of my conversations with Professor N C Thanh (ex-Professor at the Asian Institute of Technology), he said that what matters in work is “people management.”   I thought he was absolutely right. In environmental business, people management is more challenging as you need a multidisciplinary team of experts to work in a team to provide a sound and rounded solution to the problem or opportunity. So I decided to get myself trained in this area.

I came across a course offered by a company in Mumbai called ISRA on psycho-geometrics. Psycho-geometrics is the art of effectively connecting with people by understanding their communication preferences. Psycho-Geometrics is based on the notion that we tend to be attracted to certain “shapes” and forms in the environment because of our personalities, attitudes, education, and experiences, as well as the ways in which our individual brains function. This was a two day course and it was a great fun. There was lots of learning, especially through the practicums. Today, PsychoGeometrics as a tool has been shared and used by more than 1 million people, in more than 60 countries and in more than 1,000 corporations, companies, schools and universities, non-profit organizations, and government agencies around the world.

In PsychoGeometrics sessions with ISRA I learnt that the “shape” of your face describes your communication style. There are five types of “faces” you generally come across. These are

  • Square: who like conversations to have a structure: beginning, middle and end
  • Triangle: who are outspoken and direct
  • Rectangle: Has the courage to have difficult conversations
  • Circle: Best listeners in a conversation
  • Squiggle: Brings in creative ideas during a conversation.

These “faces” can be identified by analysing responses to carefully designed set of questions. When I went through the test, I was assessed to be a “Circle.”

When communicating then, you may adapt style, tone, and behaviour to suit the person to whom you are speaking after recognizing the “face.” As a result you do “clever” conversations and increase your power to influence.

After the course, when I returned to my office, I started applying psycho-geometrics on my team and allocate responsibilities. For all client meetings I started putting my “square” faced colleague to make the presentation. The presentations were always tidy, clear and structured. When we used to get into “fireworks” from our client, then the “rectangle” faced colleague was sent supported by a team member who had a “circle” face. Whenever we used to have business planning/review meetings, I ensured that we had a “triangle” and “squiggle” amongst us. I realized that for running an organization, you needed a team of all the five “faces.”

However when we need to put teams on a complex and high priority task, you need a more structured process. Real teamwork on mission mode implies collaboration, communication, and acknowledgment of a common purpose.

A study in the UK on teams of surgeons operating in emergency rooms showed that working within a bonded team of colleagues help develop interactive routines that harnessed the unique talents of each team member. People who have teamwork as their top strength are usually “loyal and dedicated teammates and work hard for the success of the group.” When you work in a team, you are shifting the focus from you to others but once you are in a team, you get stronger.

To build a strong team, trust is essential. This requires a facilitator. A team cannot succeed without a facilitator. A facilitator (who could take a leadership position) ensures that each person’s skills are being utilized, and that they are working toward the same goal.

Many universities today, have set up groups or research teams in this spirit. Here Professor plays a leadership role and also that of a facilitator. Team typically consists of masters, doctoral and post-doctoral students. This team work often leads to cutting edge innovations and produces outcomes that can be commercialized in practice in a relatively short time. In environmental science and engineering, you now see emergence of such a team work often called as “research groups”, especially at institutions like IITs. Such teaming forms the basis of the centres of excellence.

My Professor Friend however had another point of view. He spoke about the research conducted by Astrologer Bex Milford, who discovered which zodiac signs help to form most compatible teams in the office environment. Bex recommends zodiac signs that cover different skills and traits.

“Designing a team according to zodiac sign could help. You can form a team with a naturally authoritative leader, Capricorn, with an organised Scorpio. Another ideal team combination would be mixing an enthusiastic natural leader, Aries, with the inspiring teacher Sagittarius. For your public speaking and communication needs, include a charismatic Leo, and curious Gemini. Add a Scorpio for their research-based skills, and Cancer for their caring nature to form a great team. Bring in a Taurus and Aquarius for your problem-solving needs, and then complete the team with an intuitive Pisces and diplomatic Libra.”

Professor said that I should use a combination of psycho-geometrics and Bex’s algorithm based on zodiac signs as a basis of recruitment, team rationalization and for forming teams.

“Well Professor, but what about the basic qualifications, experience and expertise in environmental sector” I couldn’t  hold myself and had to ask this question. “You cannot deliver results only by “faces” and zodiac signs!” I vented out.

Professor lighted his cigar and said “Dr Modak, do you really think that a domain expertise is anymore needed when it comes to the subject of environment? Now a days,  anybody can jump in the environmental bandwagon, so far as he/she is able to communicate. Everybody is equally good or equally bad.”

I thought Professor was too sarcastic.

I decided to keep shut.

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