Divide & Conquer; Building & Destroying Teams – Part 1

I am going to start a three-part discussion which will start with building a team through dividing and conquering moving to destroying teams and then my commentary. Links to each will be available for each part.

Dividing and conquering is a mainstay in military warfare strategy; so too does the business world use tactics of dividing and conquering to cement the organizations ability to sustain and grow operations. It can be easy to identify how an organization uses divide and conquer (d & c) strategies and tactics to dominate an industry, but it is not so simple to understand how d & c builds and destroys teams. Let us examine how this is possible and what the impact can be to an organization or group.

What is meant by the concept of divide and conquer? Smaller numbers are more easily managed, manipulated, and motivated. One may also see d & c as a way to successfully lead diverse groups.

Divide and conquer strategy and tactics may seem on the surface to be negative in nature, almost devious in how it is perceived by many, especially by those who are the losing side! In military warfare d & c tactics include dividing one’s own forces to appear larger than they actually are to the enemy or dividing the enemy’s forces in order to secure victory. In nature we see many predators like wolves culling herds for easy kills which is an example of survival tactics and team buildings. It really depends on the side you are on which dictates the perception of divide & conquer strategies and tactics as being good or bad.

Let us look into team building through divide and conquer strategies and tactics. When an organization is facing a task which is enormous it becomes a necessity to breakdown the task into manageable sub-tasks. Now we have small tasks to accomplish a larger goal, but we do not send our entire force to tackle each task by itself, we separate our human resources into teams and move forward towards working several of the sub-tasks simultaneously. Each small group becomes autonomous to some degree and hopefully the organization’s leadership has identified individuals’ knowledge, skills, abilities, experience, and interests in assigning groups for sub-task completion. Everyone has seen an organization chart and understands how things are broken-down into groups, an engineering firm leader is not going to assign an engineer to an accounting department to calculate payroll taxes just as a restaurant owner is not going to have the Michelin Chef bus tables. This is most often referred to assignment by specialization and is vital for every organization to master for success.

Groups have been assigned accordingly and now it is time to build teams. Two basic necessities for team building are leaders and followers. Followers are those who will complete specific tasks as assigned to the group based on specialty. Leaders are those who have formal authority over the group to make decisions aligned with the goals and objectives of the organization. This is not a team, yet. This is a hierarchical structure with clear task assignment and cloudy expectations. Who or what develops and sets expectations?  General expectations are driven by the industry as a whole to begin. Expectations become more detailed flowing to individual groups from leadership. There is a caution here because in some cases an organization can have very general expectations which do not translate into specific expectations at individual group levels (I would venture to say, if this is the case, then the organization may be heavily laden with managers with limited leadership abilities). Team? Not yet.

Specific groups have been developed for completing sub-tasks meeting larger organizational goals and objectives. There are leaders and followers who have some idea of expectations. Followers have the easy part now, follow the work plan and finish assigned tasks. Leaders have a completely different responsibility now to cultivate a team. Please bear in mind, we are discussing specialized groups within  larger organizations in this context.

Group leaders must complete the evaluation of knowledge, skills, abilities, experience, and interests for each member in the group. Leaders may choose to review group members’ resumes and applications to build a basic understanding of knowledge, skills, abilities, and experience. What about interests? This is where leading becomes fun! It is time to get to know the individual people within the group and the interests which drive each person. Drive or better known as motivation. What interests an individual also is a large portion of what motivates a person.

Remember there is a definite difference between leading and managing. A leader will take the time to know the individuals within a group and develop the team around the individuals’ motives and interests. It is a complex puzzle which often times has one or two pieces which are not part of the puzzle. Knowledge, skills, abilities, and experiences can qualify a person for a group, but that does not insure a good fit for the organization or individual.

Here are two really important Human Resource concepts for building teams; there is organization fit and individual fit. Sometimes individuals do not fit with the organization and sometimes the organization does not fit the individual. Just because this person has all the basic qualifications does not mean they fit the organization. We do not expect an engineer to move from a construction company  into a lab to develop a mechanical heart, even though the knowledge, skills, and abilities indicate the engineer is a great match for mechanical innovation. Likewise, a person with nonviolent values would most likely not be a good fit for a weapons manufacturing company.

We now have a group of puzzle pieces which belong all to the same puzzle. The leader is beginning to put the puzzle together by getting to know the people. A good leader will let individuals do what they enjoy doing in the department. A great leader will challenge team members to expand their knowledge, skills, and abilities to develop a unique experience in order to foster the sense of value for each person within the team.

We have divided a large group into smaller groups to manage the goals and objectives of the organization. In over simplifying this concept, we now have teams because leaders have taken the time and put forth the effort to know their people and assign them appropriate tasks and team positions which fulfill the need to be valued.

A huge undertaking has been divided into tasks and sub-tasks. A large group of people has been divided into small specialized groups to accomplish tasks and sub-tasks as their specific knowledge, skills, abilities, experiences, and interest best suit the goals and objectives of the organization as a whole. People are motivated by many things and trade their labor for benefits from a company. In turn, a company pays people to produce products and/or services in the hopes of realizing a profit.

I am quite proud of myself, I just explained an organization in under 100 words! We have successfully divided and conquered a complex undertaking in terms of a business or group with specific goals and objectives in pursuit of realizing some form of profit. Let us move on now to Part 2.

Divide & Conquer; Building & Destroying Teams – Part 2

Author: Gary

I am a Native Oregonian and grew up on the south side of the central coast in the small town of Bandon. After serving in the US Navy for 11 years I returned home to pursue my passion in leadership. I graduated from the University of Oregon with two degrees in Sociology and Planning, Public Policy, & Management. After a few years of working I returned to academic pursuits. I earned my Masters of Business Administration with a heavy emphasis on Servant Leadership from Northwest Christian University. Life took a twist and I left the Eugene, Oregon area and moved to the Portland, Oregon circus! I currently work for a very large company and have enjoyed great benefits which have allowed me to continue my life long pursuit of knowledge. I have completed Six Sigma Master Black Belt coursework with Villanova University as well as a certificate from University of Notre Dame in Executive Management. Recently, I earned my second Master's Degree from Michigan State University in Management, Strategy, & Leadership. I have lived a pretty good life and I keep things honest. No mincing of words from me and sometimes that means I drop a little bomb in my language. Please, forgive me if my language becomes a little brutish. I pride myself on being able to learn from anyone and any circumstance.

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