by Peter A. Arthur-Smith, Leadership Solutions, Inc.®
“A team comprises 6 – no more than 7- people who join together to accomplish a common, highly-prized objective that is important to all of them and their organization. A successful action team is usually two.”
It is clear that in any team sport or workplace team environment, where teams do particularly well, that those team participants experience incredible bonds with a unified desire for overall success: something not to be forgotten. However, in those environments where every man and woman is in it for themselves, then significant rivalry and dysfunction occurs – participants often wish they were somewhere else.
Even though most organization executives realize these axioms, so many of them still encourage and allow individualism to occur. Why does this happen?
» Nature of the Beast – This writer has had the privilege to objectively study countless numbers of executives over many years. It is apparent that 40%+ of them are high achievers
and ambitious people. Most of them have arrived at the top of their organizations through outperforming their peers and ‘making-it’ through their individual talent and determination. When they attain the top spot, they admire and promote those similar to themselves, and therefore position others in key spots that value individual rather than team success.
Another 5-10% prefer pursuing their own ideas and philosophies relative to others, consequently don’t encourage input from others or indulge in team building around them. An additional 5-10% look for rational and numerical answers in pursuing various initiatives around them; consequently team behavior, human factors or synergies are toward the bottom of their list of considerations.
Such an overall scenario indicates that as much as 60% of executives are not particularly disposed toward pursuing teamwork, despite its obvious advantages, purely due to the nature of the beast. Even the other 40% or less, who may be more disposed to teamwork, owing to their stronger interest in people and their value, could find themselves drawn to short-term, individual heroics by their team members as they pursue near-term results and objectives.
While these realities are not particularly encouraging for so many workplace people, who would prefer a team approach, it does give those organizations that actually propagate team sensibilities a distinct leg-up. We haven’t yet sufficiently moved from a dog-eat-dog culture to one of greater overall collaboration, where organizations could then accomplish much more by leveraging people’s collaborative instincts. These latter instincts undoubtedly exist across broader sections of many organizations, even though they are much rarer among the executive class. (NOTE: This is a distinction executives don’t seem to be fully conscious of; much to their unaware loss. They reckon that their people want to do their own thing because that’s what they- as executives – prefer.)
A recent documentary on the Vietnam War, underscored how teamwork prevailed under dire circumstances. The Vietcong were badly mauled on several occasions, based upon an individual cannon-fodder approach, whereas the camaraderie inculcated into American units drove them to prevail on more than one occasion against a vicious enemy.
» Knowing how to Build Teams – Notwithstanding the above realities and the undoubted benefits of teamwork, far too many executives are unaware of how to build effective and successful teams. This usually includes the following:
- Forming – As indicated at the outset of this article, a well established effective team size is 6-7 and the best team size for accomplishing an immediate key objective is 2 – not 1. Why? Because it’s been proven that the right pairing works better overall than the majority of people operating on their own. The costs of pairing are more than offset by the results they accomplish – assuming they are right for each other and are effectively assigned.
Secondly, an effective team cannot join together without a truly effective leader or a challenging purpose. So, if you are not a true team-believer, it’s better that you don’t bother investing in teams. Let them challenge themselves.
Thirdly, you will form the most effective teams with diverse personalities rather than similar ones. The latter may harmonize better in the short run, but will not become dynamic or enriched enough to make real longer term gains.
- Storming – Diverse constructive personalities, given a highly valued and common objective, may induce a degree of debate and disagreement at the outset. But, given the right leadership and encouragement, they’ll find ways to move beyond initial dissonance. It’s unlikely you will develop the right bonds with others without resolving challenging things together. (NOTE: Soldiers going through boot camp together, helps build mutual respect. Sports teams handling difficult games together and succeeding builds winning ways.)
- Norming – As indicated previously, the right groupings will come to terms with, respect and make allowances for each other. (NOTE: The same goes for successful marriages, once couples work out their differences.)
- Performing – Once things settle down and assuming their leader keeps them focused and adequately resourced within a given timeframe, then teams will invariably step up to the task. Participants will watch each other’s backs, cover for each other, and encourage each other to give of their best. (NOTE: Watch for this in top football, baseball and basketball teams. Such teams are always collectively interested in how they’re doing.) Appropriate celebrations are especially appreciated by such teams where they can enjoy each other’s contributions.
- The only other step is Disbanding, although even that needs to be done with sensitivity and a degree of patience. (NOTE: Is that why we see such high degrees of PTSD among demobilized, battle-affected military personnel? Is it also a form of grieving after being so closely interwoven with comrades in tough circumstances, but then those relationships are ripped apart without much time for grieving and letting-go of close, dependable team mates?)
Fortunately, in ongoing businesses, non-profits or other institutions, the need for disbanding is much less prevalent; unless through take-overs or closures. Ad hoc teams formed for various projects within such organizations, usually have the opportunity to return to their more permanent teams or groupings. They also rarely have to operate in life or death situations, accept for police officers or firefighters. The latter usually play out their team roles over many years with diverse assignments until they’re ready for promotion or retirement.
If you already have teams, take a look at how effective they are and whether they’ve been properly set-up and orchestrated through the above steps. Where they appear to be dysfunctional or not terribly effective, consider reforming them into a more diverse grouping. Patiently work them through the above steps and there’s a good chance you’ll have much better results.
Alternatively, if you’re not convinced regarding teamwork, try setting up a trial team using the above suggestions. This writer will be surprised if you’re not pleasantly surprised.
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