How to Turn a Group of Strangers Into a Team

Amy Edmonson

Why our future depends on “teaming.” Have you ever stayed to watch the closing credits of a movie and marveled at how many people it took to make it?

Amy Edmondson has been researching such a process in a variety of industries and venues — including going to Disney to study how 900+ people, in ever-shifting clusters, produced one animated film. She calls it “teaming,” or teamwork on the fly. Teaming is not the same as teamwork, which consists of stable groups who have the benefits of practice and experience with one another, like your local sports team. It’s more about the constantly changing configurations that form around one project, then another, to respond to challenges in the moment — and it’s the way more and more of us have to work, Edmondson says.

She recalls the 2010 rescue of Chilean copper miners as a case study of the power of teaming: it required hundreds of people, including mining engineers, NASA scientists, Chilean special forces troops and volunteers from around the world to work across sectors and borders for nearly 70 days. Similarly, problems like climate change and water scarcity are too colossal to be solved by any one company or sector, Edmondson says.

So what are the factors behind successful teaming? Humility, curiosity about what others can offer, willingness to take risks and learn quickly, and the psychological safety to give your best. “Look to your left, look to your right,” she asks the audience. “How quickly can you find the unique skills, talents and hopes of the people around you, and how quickly can you convey what you can bring?”

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