The Three Laws of Teams

The famous science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, forecasted the coming age of Robots with a series of entertaining stories involving dilemmas around the concept of the Three Laws of Robotics. Asimov’s work was brought to the big screen in the recent block-buster film starring Will Smith “i, Robot”. But can these laws also be applied to teams?

I believe the answer is yes – these three laws not only apply but can be used to do an instant health check on a team by asking just three questions.

The three laws of robotics

The First Law
A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm
The Second Law
A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders conflict with the First Law
The Third Law
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or the Second Law

The Three Laws of Teams?

We need to remember some of the teams in work or sport or other areas which we have been part of and ask ourselves three questions concerning:

  1. Team Goals
  2. Own Goals
  3. Other Team Member Goals

Q1: How did the members of best team we were in operate its priorities?
i.e. What were Rule 1, Rule 2 and Rule 3
Q2: How did the members of other teams you were in operate its priorities?
i.e. What were Rule 1, Rule 2 and Rule 3
Q3: What was the main difference between these two teams?
If you do this you might conclude that the best performing teams follow these three laws:

The First Law

The teams overall goal comes first

The Second Law

The other members goals comes next but not at the expense of the First Law

The Third Law

Individual team member goals come next but not at the expense of the First Law or the Second Law
I would expect little debate around the First Law.
The Second and Third Laws are not so easy to separate – it does seem somewhat idealistic to expect individuals to put their needs below the other team members.
The closest I have seen to this kind of team member altruism is where the individual needs and the other member needs are treated equally.
This may be as far is it goes or perhaps all this means is that I have not yet met any really ultra-high performing teams?

Two very different teams

So when you do your instant team health-check I predict you will end up with one of two results:
A Performing Team where the pyramid is the right way up and team goals come first.
An Inverted Team where the pyramid is upside down and individual member ambitions have somehow overtaken the team goal.

Try it out – it might be enlightening