Teams are increasingly important to the success of organizations; they're charged with everything from creating innovative new products to starting new global businesses. Nevertheless, current research on teams tends to focus on dysfunction. Deborah Ancona, the Seley Distinguished Professor of Management at MIT's Sloan School of Management and faculty director of the MIT Leadership Center, and William Isaacs, President of Dialogos and senior lecturer at MIT Sloan, propose a more positive, systems approach to team theory based on the work of David Kantor and William Lehr, 1975. While Kantor and Lehr designed this model in the context of family systems, Ancona and Isaacs transfer these ideas to the realm of teams in organizations.
The problem with the organizational literature, they submit in “Structural Balance of Teams [4 Player Model]” in Exploring Positive Relationships at Work: Building a Theoretical and Research Foundation (Dutton and Ragins, eds., 2006), is its mechanistic view of teams. In this view, the key to success involves putting just the right people on the team, or creating the right incentive scheme or decision-making process. Essentially, the way to improve a team is to optimize each part. But this thinking reduces teams to pure input-process-output machines. There's no room for rising above the sum of the parts.
Ancona and Isaacs propose that researchers begin instead to think of teams as living systems capable of extraordinary results. A team of people can be expected not merely to fulfill its tasks, but to be creative, generating ideas for new products and services and new ways of moving the organization forward.
Kantor’s Four-player model
Ancona and Isaacs’ approach is adapted from the Kantor Model to serve as a framework for structural balance in teams.
The model asserts that four core acts are the essential building blocks of both dysfunctional and healthy team behavior. They are: