The Magic and Mystery of Teams

As the world of manufacturing has become increasingly competitive, managers have diligently searched out new and innovative ways to increase productivity, multiply the power of every employee, and better utilize every resource in order to positively impact the bottom line.

For more than a decade one of the most popular “Hot Trend” innovations has been the idea of “Team”. We are told that no man is an island, nothing of significance has ever been accomplished by one person alone, the whole is equal to more than the sum of its parts and on and on and on.

One the other hand I recently read about a Canadian government survey that concluded there is no evidence to support the idea that team environments are more productive than non team environments. Some unknown genius said, “If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in the dark with a mosquito.”

Bacon and eggs make a great breakfast team whereas mashed turnips and eggs just don’t seem to work. When a CEO brings in an advisor, coach or consultant to discuss available options, perhaps the first question to address should be, “Is this a team situation?”

Are there situations where a “Team” approach is not appropriate and if so what is it that separates a “Team” scenario from some other method?

Many years ago my philosophy professor taught me that before you can argue for or against an idea you need to define your axioms.

So what is a “Team”?

Any group of people working together — right? Wrong!

When is a group not a team?

A basic tenet of “Team” is joint responsibility, joint blame and joint credit. Any situation in which individuals are going to be judged, assessed or rated according to individual achievement is not a team situation. Someone has said, “individuals score points, teams win games.”

Salespeople in a car dealership rarely pass on leads to each other or step in to help each other close a deal. In fact they are more likely to steal each other’s potential clients. Even when they become friends and a senior salesperson mentors a junior, offering advice on assessing customers, prospecting, closing deals, etc., this is not a team. Many organizations refer to their sales staff as a team, but each salesperson is solely responsible for results in a given area, territory, geographic location or product line. No matter how determined we are to have all sales people deliver the same message, in the same way, if they do not need interaction, co-operation, and support from one another, and if they are not going to be judged primarily by overall results of the group, they are not a team.

Another basic tenet of team is decision making method. In many groups we seek majority agreement, seven for — five against — the “for” is carried. Not so with a team. Here we must seek consensus. We must arrive at a decision that everyone can support. We must keep asking what can be modified to get support from those who disagree. (If we delete this, modify that, add something else, would you then be able to go along?) We must have unanimity. The joint responsibility, blame, credit demands it.

If you still like to call your sales staff, “The Sales Team” because you like the sound of it, you believe your customers like the sound of it, or even because the salespeople like the sound of it, go ahead, we don’t need to play with semantics. But don’t delude yourself into thinking that the attitudes that make your favourite hockey team a champion will work here! Instead seek to develop the attitudes to practice, conditioning and a positive mental attitude that make individual players great.

Similarly a “Management Team” is rarely that, at least not in all aspects of each executive’s function. By all means, when managers come together to analyze performance, determine employment standards or create a strategic plan for growth they will likely be operating as a team. A CEO has authority to impose, assign, delegate and hold other managers accountable. When he or she brings subordinates together for a pep talk, sites the shortcomings of individual departments, lays out new policy, directives or goals, this is no team environment. A team has a leader, other groups have a boss! And yes, we still need bosses!

From this I think we can conclude that, when an enterprise demands individual effort and that individual alone must be responsible for results, the idea of “Team” is inappropriate. We must also be aware that in any endeavour where we are putting all of our eggs in an “individual” basket, the selection, training, coaching and mentoring of that individual is crucial to the success of that endeavour.

We may also conclude that when an enterprise is so critical as to demand very tight control, a high degree of expertise or quick, on the spot decision making and action, even if many people are involved we have a committee or a task force, not a team. (Some teams can be called a “Task Force” but more on that later.)

Why is it important to differentiate?

The idea of team is most important to corporate culture. A culture that embraces the idea that everyone is working together co-dependantly toward the accomplishment of a noble objective is masterfully put forward in the little book, “Gung Ho!” By Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. The idea of everyone accepting individual and joint responsibility for the overall corporate effort and result, sharing the dream and the rewards is seen as the key to achieving corporate goals.

The Team

In examining organizations where teams have proven to be successful we see some obvious differences from non team environments. The word “Team” seems to be constantly on the tip of every tongue. We hear references to “the management team”, “the sales team”, “the safety team”, the productivity team”. We here that “George, Sally and Roberta teamed up to…”, “the Tom and Bob team produces…” and so on. There is an apparently constant awareness of and focus on the “Idea of team.” We, them, and us are heard much more often than I, she, you and him.

There are some basics that determine the success of any team effort. Number of members, purpose, goals, required and available skills, approach or methodology, accountability and results measurement. In almost every instance where a team fails to meet its objectives a deficiency in one or more of these is the prime cause.

A dozen members is generally believed to be the maximum for effectiveness. More than this becomes cumbersome and unwieldy with too little opportunity for individual contribution.

Everyone must understand what is the object of the exercise, what the group is expected to accomplish that can’t be done by individual effort. Each person should also know why he or she is a part of the team.

Goals must be clearly defined both for the team and for the contribution of each individual member and everyone must buy in. The group must share a vision of the team as a powerful force.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *