The Exhausting Science Behind Switching Teams at Work

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Research shows that if you put a group of competent professionals into a room (physically or virtually), and give them the perfect conditions, it will take 4-6 months before the group starts to function as a team.

This is what we like to call the learning curve dilemma. 

When individuals collaborate with new teammates, they need time to understand each other's working styles, communication preferences, and strengths. They must go through the stages of team development: forming, storming, and norming before they can start performing. 

This learning process is exhausting. It takes a toll on employees, requiring them to constantly adapt and adjust their approaches to accommodate the unique dynamics of each team.

And say you join a team that’s already been established. It should be smooth sailing- right?

Not exactly- according to a study by Harvard Business Review, it still takes an average of 6-8 weeks for a new team member to reach full productivity when joining an established team. 

However, when team compositions are continually changing, this timeline can extend significantly, leading to a prolonged period of reduced efficiency. As a result, employees might feel overwhelmed, affecting their overall job satisfaction and well-being.

And, without a doubt, productivity suffers.

Constantly switching teams can have detrimental effects on productivity due to:

  • Communication Breakdown: When team members are unfamiliar with each other's communication styles, misunderstandings, and misinterpretations are more likely to occur, leading to delays and mistakes.
  • Formation of Subgroups: When teams change frequently, subgroups may form within the organization. These subgroups tend to work more cohesively, but they can create barriers to effective communication and collaboration between different teams, hindering overall project progress.
  • Loss of Specialization: Over time, team members become experts in their respective roles and areas of expertise. Constant team switching disrupts this specialization, as employees are often assigned tasks outside their comfort zones, leading to a decrease in performance.

Let’s take a look at consulting firms for an example:

Consulting firms, such as Bain & Co., Boston Consulting Group, and McKinsey, are prime examples of organizations that face the challenges of constantly rearranging their teams. These firms often work on multiple projects simultaneously, and their employees are required to adapt quickly to new environments, industries, and team dynamics. 

A study conducted by Deloitte found that consulting firms lose approximately 25% of their productivity when switching team members on a project.

Additionally, the turnover rate in consulting firms tends to be higher than in traditional corporate settings due to the nature of their work. This turnover exacerbates the challenges of team switching, as experienced employees leave, and new team members must be integrated continuously.

So, what’s the solution? Never switch teams? (as if!)

We all know that team switching is often a necessary aspect of work; however, there are tools available that organizations can take to mitigate its negative impact.

Collaboration tools such as personal user manuals and team operating systems have been proven to aid teams in getting projects off the ground quickly and more efficiently. 

By streamlining the forming, storming, and norming stages of team development, these tools instantly help team members understand how to best communicate and work with one another- avoiding the learning curve dilemma.

Check out a free digital, shareable version of a personal user manual for your team, or optimize your teams’ ways of working with TeamOS, an innovative and data-driven team operating system.