"Never change a winning team." is a wisdom we all know. But why do we believe so and is it true for all teams?
One of the reasons why this statement made it become a wisdom is that people like predictability. When you work with people together for a while you know them well enough to make the work predictable for you. Another reason is the fact that the better you know the other team members the better you know what you can expect from them and what they expect from you. This knowledge avoids misunderstandings and mistakes. Richard Hackman (Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard University) found out that 73% of the incidents of an aeroplane crew happen on the first day of working together*. So, is this the ultimate proof that our statement is correct?
No, not necessarily.
This initial phase is usually short and with a good preparation, clear agreements and strong focus, your team will be able to manage it. But if you never change your team you are missing an exciting opportunity. The moment you bring new people in they will start questioning the status quo and they will bring in a fresh view. Another important aspect is the purpose of the team. According to my opinion, the purpose of a team should be reviewed at least every 2 years. Within 2 years the environment of the team will ultimately change and so an adjustment of your own purpose would be recommendable. Not to mention the energy new teams develop in the beginning. It can be perfectly used for creative work and innovative idea generation.
So, imagine the following: You set up a team and you tell it right from the beginning that it will work together for "only" 2 years. Only this announcement will have various positive effects:
It allows people to have a realistic idea of phases, timelines and expectations which makes the work in the team more predictable for them.
It gives people a realistic chance to make significant adjustments to wrong approaches or setups every 2 years and can avoid a permanent annoying adjustment process.
Setting a deadline will motivate team members to give their best because they know that after 2 years everyone's membership will be questioned and instead of high fluctuation a lot of turmoil in your team you will better organize changes.
Does that mean that from now on all teams are permanently changed? No, it does not. But it means that every team will take the opportunity to revise all aspects of their teamwork in respect of members, setup, purpose, rules etc. Maybe the team will decide that nothing needs to be changed. But then you have a least the good feeling that you are still on the right track.
And please allow me one more advice: No matter whether you make small or significant changes. Celebrate the work of the past 2 years. Close that chapter properly and then start a new team with a new enthusiasm as you would have for every new team.
*Interview by Diane Coutu with J. Richard Hackman (Prof.of Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard University) "Why Teams Don't Work" Harvard Business Review 2009