Jeremy Lightsmith recently asked on twitter:
"Why are teams important? I'm looking for an inspired answer."
I don't know about inspired, but here's my thoughts on the topic:
First, I believe teams (true teams, mind you, not simply groups of individuals under single managers) are capable of delivering better results than individuals - this is the economic (and in a business sense the only) justification for teams. If they can't outperform, they probably shouldn't exist.
Much of my thinking on why they can outperform has been deeply influenced by the book: "The Wisdom of Teams" and I won't rehash it here except to say that I believe the key is in the notion of "complimentary skills" - teams are more efficient because rather than having to staff a group of super-humans (you know the kind that typical HR review material seems to want to turn us all into) you can look for how one person's personality and skills work to reinforce and amplify the others.
And that brings me to my most compelling belief of all: It's in our nature. We are social creatures, we need to connect with others, to bond with them, to feel we are working together. Rather than spend our time lamenting our "shortcomings" and worrying about our individual performance (and rewards), forming solid teams means using all of our actual skills as they are to compliment our peers and deliver more than any of us can alone.
People simply work better with a group of people who complete them, whom they feel a deep connection to, whom they trust whom they admire and feel respected by. When you have that, people stop thinking about what's wrong with them, and start thinking about how they can help each other to succeed. And when you have all of that, you have a force to be reckoned with.
Is this easy to accomplish? No - and you need to accomplish all of that (respect, complimentary skills, trust, common goals, acceptance of each other as we are, etc) to achieve a true team. But I am convinced that the payoff for everyone - from the employer to the individuals involved is so worth it, that I won't willingly work any other way - and I reject any "best practices" or conventional wisdom that interferes with achieving that sense of team in the groups I work with.