The person who has experienced real teamwork and been part of a team is always aware that something bigger than one self is being achieved, which is why it feels so great. Indeed, being part of a real team can be considered one of life’s greatest experiences: just under falling in love, great friendship (of which it can be a material part) and having children. Great teams create success in life as well as in achieving objectives, which is why Virgil observed, “Success nourished them; they seemed to be able, and so they were able”. Some core part of our self is re-enforced by effective teamwork and our self-efficacy rises, which is tantamount to saying that our self-esteem is boosted.
We need to constantly tune our teams because the law of entropy means they will run down without inputs. Here are nine tips then that will tune them or get you thinking about what you need to do to improve teamwork.
Firstly, consistently and persistently talk to the team about what a team is, why it is not a group, and how it has geometric, not just arithmetic power! Raise your and their expectations of what is possible.
Second, motivate yourself more to believe in teams. Here is a good reason: teams are important because you are not immortal: you will die, or retire, or resign, or transfer, or at some point leave the team/group of which you are member. At that point who takes over? Who succeeds? Teams ensure some genuine form of succession planning, and thus secure a legacy to the work that you have done. That’s important isn’t it? Groups on the contrary have little or no structure and so little of value can be perpetuated or transmitted to the future.
Three, be certain that the remit or mission or objective is bold, big, clear and compelling; be, like the Blues Brothers, on a ‘mission from God’! People want to be important and what can be more important than doing something important with like-minded friends? For most people (and groups) work is an activity of which 80% or more is wasted time; buy-in to clear, specific objectives is the antidote to this waste and the foundation of strong team performance.
Four, understand that the two words ‘team’ and ‘hierarchy’ are mutually exclusive. You’ll know that there’s too much hierarchy in your organisation when you find everyone agrees with your views and deference is the norm. Group-think beckons! It’s not rank that decides what we do and how we do it, but relevance and contribution to the mission.
Five, just as we speak of clarifying the objective, so we need to spend time negotiating roles in order to maximise each member’s contribution, particularly by playing to their strengths and motivators. One good question is: ‘how DO I contribute to the objective?’ And here’s an even better one for the superior team: ‘how CAN I contribute to the team?’
Six, ensure you oil the machine. This follows from tip five: a too rigid pursuit of objectives, of what I call the ‘content’, always leads to disintegration, as even the most powerful engine will burst apart if it is not oiled properly. ‘Oiling’, in team terms, is paying attention not just to the objectives but to the process. A favourite question I have for teams is: ‘how do you interact with each other?’ The answer speaks volumes, especially when it’s something like: ‘We don’t’!
Seven, avoid blame and drive out fear. The driving out of fear is Point 8 of W.E. Deming’s famous Fourteen Point programme for the transformation of management; and it was essential for him in terms of the whole organisational drive to achieve quality. People will not give their best, or be creative, or solve pressing business problems, if they feel that making a mistake is going to have dire consequences. Blame is always destructive. We need therefore to stop doing it. If you are not sure whether you do it, ask – get feedback and act it on it rather than blaming the messengers! Be consistent in word and deed.
Eight, ensure accountability to the wider organisation. So far the tips have largely focused on getting the team in the right – the peak – condition to perform. But there is a danger: the silo effect, the fiefdom and empire building scenarios, wherein successful teams become detached from the wider organisation and exist to promote only themselves. This needs to be prevented at source by proper accountability, controls and incentives.
Finally, nine, make sure you have fun – this can be easily overlooked or easily over-indulged in. In the latter case, everything is fun but not much is being achieved, but this is the rarer phenomenon. The simple antidote to it is ensuring that fun follows achievement and becomes a form of ongoing celebration. But overlooking its importance and relevance is much more common: employees, sometimes even in good teams, sometimes have to find ways to amuse themselves at work because they are bored – there is little fun to be had, and work is deathly serious. This is a mistake and needs to be reversed.
If you take some of these ideas and run with them you will find they have a major impact on your teams and thus on your productivity and profitability. Team work means teams work!