Towards a real team

4 min read

Yesterday morning I was in the departure gate at Barajas Airport in Madrid, waiting to board my flight back to Buenos Aires. Through one of the windows I saw the ramp operation team and it triggered two memories.

The first: the campaign Southwest Airlines did for its 40th anniversary in which all the ramp operation teams participated. The photo of this post is a reference to it.

The second memory, an e-mail I received around 2009, while I was a manager for a multinational company:

Hello Martín, As I told you over the phone, last week we closed a deal with our biggest technology partner to create a new business area. I have already been talking to some managers of the consulting and services area, to send us some resources (people). Two resources from project A are coming, two more from consulting, three from different service projects and we are going to include a Team Lead who was recently unassigned after finishing the project he was working on. However, the Team Lead is going to be on loan until we get a new one, and we should return him afterwards. I´m attaching the resumes of each of the candidates for you to get to know them, so next week you gather the team and start. Big Hug, Federico

From these two memories and the big difference I perceive between them, I wrote these thoughts during the flight back home.

I think an aspect that really helps a Team Facilitator in his career development is, in my opinion, to be aware of the importance of the existence of real teams in organizations. I propose to call them real teams, to make a distinction from the groups of people that a manager like Federico forms via e-mail and uses the word "team" so lightly to refer to them.


A real team is not a group of people a manager puts together and calls "team" just like that.

Personally I like to make the distinction that Katzenbach and Smith make in their book “The Wisdom of Teams1 about the different types of teams that one can come across in organizations, ordered from lower to higher performance:

  1. Work Group
  2. Pseudo-team
  3. Potential Team
  4. Real Team
  5. High performance Team

From my point of view, when we speak of Agile Teams, we are talking about the last two categories: real team or high performance team.

However, in my experience working in organizations, only a few times have I felt I was part of real teams. I think most of the time, it is because managers are not aware of what the concept team means, and they believe that it only takes to gather a group of people to start calling it a team. This, I say, even from my personal experience as a delivery manager in traditional companies: the same happened to me. In the best of cases, I wanted that group of people to work together as a team, but as the years went by I discovered that it is not enough to work as a team for a group of people to become a real team.

Before going deeper into the concept of real team, let's define it:

A real team is a small amount of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, goals and working approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.

I would like to analyze this definition in more detail, deconstructing it as follows:

  1. A small amount of people
  2. with complementary skills
  3. Committed to a common purpose
  4. Sharing goals
  5. and working approach
  6. for which they hold themselves mutually accountable

In future articles I'll be covering each aspect of this definition. In the mean time...

A couple of powerful questions
  • Can you identify a real team in which you worked in your professional career?
  • What made it different from the rest?


1. Katzenbach, J., Smith, D., The Wisdom of Teams, 1993