Chaos, Control, and Team Bonding

Let’s do another quadrant: vertical axis is how chaotic the company is, horizontal axis is how bonded the teams are.

Team bonding level is of course not a constant. The Tuckman model applies to all teams, and we human go through cyclical rhythms of togetherness and separation as we grow personally and professionally. That said, there are groups of people that have worked together for time frames and intensities that look like marriage, teams that have strong relationships and projects outside of work… and also, groups where people don’t communicate outside of the strictly necessary, and they’re looking for ways to reduce what’s necessary. Teams that stay bonded through change are linked by culture, not location or mission or org chart lines.

Chaos is also a little slippery to define, because all organizations exist in the world which is always changing, so there’s a steady flow of change everywhere. But that’s just being alive as an organization of humans, and the level of chaos comes from the organizational reactions. To over-simplify: in a low chaos organization, change is met with procedures, and in a high chaos organization change is met with heroes. A dragon is coming: does your organization field an army with a dusty three ring binder of dragon-defense processes? Or do you send the first three people who raise their hands, then feverishly work to build them untested armor and weapons before the beast arrives?

Gang of Ronin

High chaos, low bonding… everything is a crisis and you’re on your own to solve it. To be honest, I rarely see organizations like this outside of specific professional service and consulting sectors, where activities are fully commoditized. Since an individual contractor can easily move on to another firm and the hiring firms are providing little value to their contractors, tenures tend to be quite short. This type of company does something very useful for the industry: they collect arbitrage on a newly trained consultant’s ability to price themselves. Fresh out of self-training or certification mill? A few jobs with a churn-and-burn butts-in-seats staff augmentation shop might be necessary to build resume and contacts.

Band of Brothers

High chaos, high bonding. These companies are pressure cookers and often have really great people and really cohesive teams. An us-against-the-world wartime spirit forms, and everyone pitches in heroically. Creativity is rewarded, but it’s also burned out quickly by the rapid churn of crises. Like a wartime scenario, tenures tend to be very short or very long: a core of lifetime soldiers filters and trains the mass of fresh recruits. There’s lots of hiring and lots of rapid churn out, and high emotional investment all around. If you find success in a company like this, it can be hard to leave, but you also run the risk of becoming the big fish in a small pond. Continual chaos prevents them from achieving their best, and if you’re always enabling that behavior… well, it feels bad to leave them, but they’ll get by fine without you.


Low chaos, high bonding: these places can feel chaotic inside, because again change is constant… but they’ve often stood for decades and have deep roots. I have known some great managers in these shops and their teams tend to stick with them through thick and thin. Long tenures and strong interpersonal bonds make a group that works well with each other. There are negative interpretations and aspects as well: people have time to think of ideas that are likely to sit on a shelf forever, and it’s hard to make progress quickly. Change does happen, but it’s rarely fast.


Low chaos, low bonding: This quadrant should actually be empty, but nature abhors a vacuum, and people will act to turn the low chaos back up into high. Thankfully I have not worked for an organization like this, but I have observed the dynamic in person. Without cultural team bonds, there’s little incentive to prevent chaos, and even if there were process tools at one time they can be lost or discarded. While the mission itself may be extremely low chaos (say, a monopoly provider of an essential service or a government agency), managers inside it can produce lots of chaos if they don’t feel empathy towards the teams they’re impacting. Want to see fistfights and tears in the workplace (and no, I am not naming names)? This is the path.

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