Dec 5, 2018
Team Success Is No Accident
What are some things we can do to make sure our teams are operating at a high level. We see plenty of dysfunctional teams in operation and the opportunity costs of this are prohibitive, in today’s super competitive environment. Quite simply if our team is better than the competition, then we will win. It is a team against team equation here. How well we work together, the degree of engagement, motivation, commitment and innovation is what wins the day. Getting this equation to work is no given and there are best practices which do work.
Often the senior executives come up with the vision and then cascade it down throughout the firm. The troops were usually not involved, so it is received from on high. Well even if they were involved, as new troops arrive they were not part of the creation process, so involvement is only a piece of the puzzle.
What is more important is creating a culture where decisions and work are executed, based around delivering the vision for the firm. In departments and sections, those in the front line can have sub-visions around how they will execute the greater vision. The people are the bottom of the hierarchy can have a say in this version of the vision and feel ownership.
Teams are a random collection of individual personalities, communication styles, levels of knowledge, sophistication, education and family upbringing. If we were not working together, we wouldn’t necessary hang out together. But we are working together, so we need the team to get on well with each other. Open communication is a key and so is team building. This is not just something done once at the start, after the team formation. It has to be scheduled in to make it happen because usually everyone is too busy with their individual work for it to happen naturally. There also needs to be established norms around behaviour and language within the team. The boss has to police this strenuously so that corrosive activities are eliminated entirely.
Enthusiasm is contagious. The boss must be the chief enthusiast in the team. “The fish rots from the head” is ancient wisdom and the boss has to set the tone. No matter how tired, how sick, how depressed, how much home life drama there is in the boss’s world, at the workplace, the boss has to be all cheerfulness and light. The team talk has to be divided into discussions of what is going well and how can we make it better, rather than critique and struggle sessions about who is to blame for problems.
Sounds obvious, but I recall problems at NASA when some parts were delivered in Imperial sizes and others in Metric and Airbus, when the wiring systems being installed weren’t compatible. Where was the clear communication in these major organisations, doing tremendously sophisticated work. We can’t be too cocky about what we are doing. Investing in communication skill training makes a lot of sense when you look at the downside of getting things wrong. Are there the systems in place to keep everyone informed of what is happening? As projects move, is everyone brought up to speed on the progress? “They should know” is pure folly and instead we need, “everyone must be kept informed” to be the dominant culture.
The Japanese acronym ho-ren-sois a good basic practice that is taught to young graduate entrants to their firms. It is a bit of a play on words because horensomeans spinach, but what we are talking about here is hokuku-report, renraku-get in touch and sodan-discuss. Basic but a good grounding for young and old to recall when thinking about making sure everyone is one the same page.
Engagement of staff requires three things to be happening. The relationship with the immediate boss is obviously critical but also important is the belief by those at the bottom of the hierarchy, that those at the top know what they are doing with where they are taking the company. The third one is pride in the company. The value of what we are trying to achieve has to be constantly reinforced, to support the direction and the differentiation of the firm amongst the many rivals we face.
We can get caught up in shareholder value, quarterly earnings and a host of things which divert us from focusing on the value we bring to the market. This is where we need communication and leadership. Bringing the team back to focus on the core value proposition of the business and the rationale for us to be in business in the first place is very important. So often though we can get stuck on what we are doing everyday and forget to focus on the value of what we are doing.
Where we can, we should be invoking a higher purpose in what we are doing, because it is easy for all of us to get stuck in the weeds of the details and detritus of modern business life. Is there an affirmation methodology in place around the value of what we are doing and is this regularly being driven within every section? If not, then let’s install it immediately, because there is no time to lose.