The Mathematics Changing a Team

When team members change, why is it so hard to get things back to normal?

When you add a new member to a team, it is often concluded that the new person must change. That they must first unlearn their old culture, expectations and ways of operating within the existing team, and then re-learn the dynamics of their new team. Which is true. Don’t get me wrong. Although to say that this is conclusively the only area of change necessary to make the addition a smooth transition is a misunderstanding of what a team actually is.

To think upon this further we may therefore decide that yes, the new person needs to change, but also the team needs to make alterations. The team itself must make several modifications, in communication, process, structure and so on; to accommodate the new member. This also seems like a reasonable answer.

Although aren’t we still missing the point of what a team is. A team (a good one atleast), is a group of people that don’t just work in the same place or on the same job. They are a collaboration of individuals that combine and work together to achieve something that they otherwise couldn’t. Teams are predicated upon trust. If there is no trust between the individuals who are coming together, then there really is no team.

The reason that the above answers cannot be the complete truth, is because you can’t replace a part in a team, ask it, and the team itself to change, and expect the team to go on running at optimal performance. Why not? Well because when you add, or subtract, or replace a member, you aren’t just changing part of it, you are creating a completely new one.

If you took my Toyota Camry for example, and replaced the motor in it with a huge V8 engine, or you took the suspension out and replaced the wheels with a set from a monster truck. You couldn’t take that car out on the road and call it a Toyota Camry any longer. What you have done is create a brand new car.

I am a big sports fan, basketball is my preference although I dabble in many. Through sporting history, across the spectrum, we have many times seen players move clubs. What is extremely rare, is that the addition/subtraction of players has no or little effect on results. More often than not, no matter how positive the move was for the team, it takes time before they can return to their previous performance, let alone reach the heights the move expected to bring about. Why? Because the player doesn’t have to just learn the teams schemes and strategies, and the team doesn’t have to just figure out how to use their new asset best. Instead, the entire team has to learn how to be a new team.

Trust must be re-established and how each member can best work together must be re-learnt.

It is the same in a business setting. Add one new member, or take one away and we need to approach the future as if we are a part of a brand new team.

Otherwise, the blame game begins if the team fails or isn’t performing. Either, the new team member is blamed for their inability to learn the team dynamic and fit in or, the team is blamed for not synthesizing the new team member within their structure.

The takeaways are these, that when team members change, then the team must be considered as a new one. It therefore cannot be expected that they reach optimal performance in the first week. There has to be an allowance of time for relationships to be formed, trust to be built, and styles be analysed.

Why is it so hard to get things back to normal when a team member is replaced? Because, 10 people in a team – 1 + 1 = 10 people in a completely different team.

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