Trick to succeeding with teams


WHAT made Atilla the Hun, Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great succeed? Not unsurprisingly, it is the same thing that makes modern companies successful. The answer is good teamwork with motivated leadership, of course. 

The armies of old, for that matter the modern ones too, divided themselves into manageable units – squad, section, platoon, company. 

The identification of oneself with a particular group along with its own norms, values, practices and uniqueness gives the individual “unlimited” power to soar. The support, trust, common goals and the savouring of success together is what makes a good team unique. 

What exactly is teamwork? Simply put, it has the components of common purpose and accountability, and is success motivated. 

The common purpose, common goals, targets and benchmark are the beacons to reach the port of call. Teams need to know exactly where to go, when, and in what numbers and quality (goods and services). Beyond this, they want to be the best in the industry, the neighbourhood or the country.  

Of course, company culture, leadership, working environment and company politics have a positive or negative effect. Assuming these influences are positive, teams need clear guidelines. These are the compass and corporate glue to accomplishment. 

The second factor in teamwork is accountability. There is responsibility, self-supervision and no passing of the buck. 

Shirking responsibility is not condoned; in fact, it goes against the very grain of teamwork. Team members “reprimand” one another if this situation occurs.  

The feeling “if it is to be, let it be me” pervades good teams. Examples of this are found in teams at Texas Instruments, Samsung and Body Shop. 

Good teams are success motivated. They savour and shine when they meet targets or excel expectations. They know that it is their collective talent and not individual brightness that contribute to good congruence. There is tremendous synergy, the team mantra that never fails. 

Typically one success leads to another, with celebrations and mementos. Success is certainly a super motivator. That is why when building teams, leaders are advised to provide them challenges and goals that are reachable. 

When does a team need reworking? A sure sign is the lack of progress towards objectives, meaning that teams go awry or make little impact. 

Inappropriate leadership and not providing the pathway and direction to the team is another. This, of course, will result in the failure to make sound decisions. This could mean that wrong decisions are made or that there is a delay in decision making, or that no decisions are made. 

A team would certainly need to be reworked if there is interpersonal hostility. Team members do not see eye to eye; there is cliquing. This problem, unless addressed, tends to worsen with time. When the above happens, team members tend to shoulder unnecessary stress. Although individual in nature, it dampens team spirit besides posing a health hazard. 

Low motivation and lack of spirit are also telltale signs for a team to be reworked. Team members do not party or indulge in much joking and laughter. There is a solemn, depressed and “damp” atmosphere. 

A team in need of reworking most often shows role confusion. Team members do not know exactly what their roles are. Directions and team objectives are blurred. In this case, team members are left to their own wits. 

One very common factor in a poor team is its high turnover or absenteeism. People begin to slowly leave a non-performing team to seek more challenges or appreciation elsewhere.  

If they are reluctant to leave, then you find the common melody called absenteeism. Some will take medical leave or emergency leave. The latter is often the result of a “grandmother’s” death. 

The above does not occur independently but rather in a cluster or group. It is only logical for one thing to lead to another. 

How do we know when teams have improved? Early in its renewal would be the improvement of product or service quality. The air itself would be positive. Improvement in productivity would be another. The number of units produced, clients served, sales made would show a plus.  

The next sign of improvement would be growth in profitability. The team would bring in more than before, both individually and as a group. 

The final sign of improvement would be “the job satisfaction” that each member of the team experiences. Members would be keen to work; they would enjoy their work and thrive on the challenges and achievements. Of course, there would be very little turnover and almost zero absenteeism. 

Over the years, many forms of steps have been taken to build or improve teams. Team members are chosen based on their interest, aptitude, experience and expertise. They are given challenging tasks and rewarded accordingly. 

From the training point of view, a number of methods are used to harness and improve teams. A common endeavour is what is called “experiential learning”. 

Experiential learning is a sure way of exposing people to excellent behavioural practices. Outdoors experiential learning has proven to be an effective way of building team and espirit de corp. 

The outdoor exercise can vary depending on the emphasis one wants to make. The various elements of leadership, communication, interpersonal skills, creativity, listening skills, self-confidence, discovering the power of group cooperation, developing strategies, etc. can individually or in various combinations be programmed and experienced. All the activities are designed as metaphors for professional challenges in an organisation. 

This, like other team building activities, results in great exuberance and camaraderie among team members. One can often find them hugging each other, cheering, singing, etc. 

The air is positively charged; there is a “gung-ho” spirit, meaning that “we can do anything, we are a super team”. This spirit will last for a fortnight.  

While those who participated may be friendlier than before, this need not necessarily result in quality or product improvement. What is needed is for the management to harness this overflow of energy and enthusiasm. 

Again, teams can be set up to address certain company problems. One such method is Action Learning, which uses simple techniques for personal and organisational learning, while solving problems.  

Introduced by Reg Revans, this method is used by General Electric, Bristol Myers Squibb, and McKinsey & Company among others. Other methods could be quality circles, task forces, etc. The important thing is for the management to ride the wave of enthusiasm and exuberance and not let it simmer down to normalcy. 

Teams are here to stay. How we build, nurture and let them grow could mean success or failure. Mastering the methods of managing teams is a must, more so in a world that needs teamwork plus creativity, innovativeness and a maverick way of thinking. Look at Genghis Khan, learn from General Electric, and develop your own high performance team.  

Think success, think team.  

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