The picture of the modern office is becoming one composed of teams. It seems that the ladder system of individuals reporting to the next higher authority is going the way of the flip phone. Replacing it are semi-independent teams that interact with one another, only occasionally reporting to management at key milestones. In that scenario, what becomes of the manager? What is his or her role in promoting teamwork and running the business?

From a day-to-day perspective, the manager gets CC’d on all the important emails – but he or she rarely finds an opportunity to chime in. The teams, having taken on a life of their own, can handle almost everything, from inter-team collaboration and product development to the foundational activity of goal setting. Does this environment spell the end of the manager? Are team-based enterprises the future of business?

The problem with teams
The ability to work in a team is a much sought-after quality in employees. Anyone who has played a team sport has had it drilled into his head over and over again that people can accomplish more when they work together. Millennials especially understand the importance of this quality, since they were educated in a system that constantly lauded the benefits of the team effort. “There is no ‘I’ in ‘team’,” goes the cliche. But what exactly makes the team so special – and is it always the best fit for a business environment?

The Economist reported that teams as a concept have some inherent problems. For example, the members of team, though treated with equal regard, may not actually all be of the same caliber. In fact, it’s statistically unlikely that every team member has the same level of output, enthusiasm and skill. As such, the overachievers may get dragged down by the group and the underachievers elevated. The Economist also suggested that good teamwork can only come with time – and if a company uses independent contractors, the team won’t have time to incubate its own culture. The result? A team that can’t possibly function at the best of its ability.

Then there are the environments that teams occupy. It’s one thing for a newsroom to be large, crowded and noisy, but entirely another for a group of app developers to work in such a room. In some scenarios, the individual needs his or her own space in which to do the best work.

The modern workplace is changing fast.The modern workplace is changing fast.

Teams and autonomy
Teams in the workplace may be on the rise, but so are remote workers. One may think reconciling the two might be difficult, but the internet is turning them into a single hybrid. At larger companies, some team members don’t even live on the same continent. And somehow, it works. Global talent mobility is easier to achieve than ever, whether it means managing talent remotely or moving employees overseas. Remote workers in particular solve the problem of the noisy physical team environment, reported Forbes. But it still leaves the question of productivity.

Each team needs a strong leader, someone who will help the high achievers to reach their full potential and drive the slackers to perform better. It’s a tough job, but an extremely rewarding one. The team leader who can steer a group of remote or partially remote workers toward a single goal is one who will reap great rewards. Higher managers need to cultivate these team leaders among their staff. After all, there is no “I” in “team,” right?

Do you think small teams are the future of business? Or are they a passing trend? Join the conversation by tweeting about your experiences regarding teams and teamwork @MSIGTS