The Whole is Something Else

Kurt Koffka (1886-1941), the German Gestalt psychologist, often gets misquoted as saying, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”  In reality, his famous quote is “the whole is something else than the sum of its parts.”

 His quote is relevant when it comes to thinking about our present philosophy of teaming. Individuals are expected to perform at increasing higher levels within their organization.  To maximize their performance, most organizations create a teaming environment.  Cross-functional teams or matrixed organizations are the norm in organizations from high tech flatter firms to government bureaucracies. Office real estate is even configured to encourage teaming behaviors. They range from open space concepts with huddle rooms for discussions or a lab setting for real-time collaboration on issues.

 When individuals intentionally create a high performing team, they, do in fact create something else or in Koffka’s words, an “independent existence.”  This new “something” is greatly sought after by managers throughout organizations, because the independent existence results in higher productivity, smiling employees, creativity/innovation, and greater business results. This new something is called: team optimization.

 Evidence of an optimized team:

 Trust: Individuals members must want to be successful and know that all the other team members equally want them to succeed.  Trust is established from being transparent and vulnerable with each other in discussions, creating a safe space for expressing ideas.

 Decisions: Being courageous and bold to make a decision allows problem solving to be accomplished quickly. Alternatives must be explored, but optimized teams do not get myriad down in analysis paralysis; they decide, move to action, and course correct accordingly.

 Goals: Knowing the desired outcome and business result to be achieved encourages healthy collaboration. Clear roles and responsibility result in accountability toward the goals. Teams should be able to describe their goals as part of their elevator speech.

 An optimized team is the something else (or independent existence) that Mr. Koffka is describing when it comes to organizations.  Consider how optimized your team is and determine which characteristic your team excels at and which one that may need some tweaking.