Teamwork

What Makes a Team Click?

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In some group work I am currently involved with, I am facilitating a session of business leaders who are from all around the world, therefore multi-cultural and quite high achievers.  One of the things we do at the beginning is called The Leadership Journey, which involves sharing the experiences and the people who have essentially shaped the person and type of leader they have become.  This has proven to be an extremely effective means of team bonding, for the following reasons.

  • Past experiences can shape future decisions.  So perhaps the more you know about somebody’s past, the better you might understand the position they take or decision made, and how you might possibly influence it.
  • Sharing is caring and vice versa – when demonstrating interest in people’s backgrounds and what matters to them, connections become stronger that can create a sense of genuine collegiality.
  • Vulnerability builds trust – when everybody shares their past in an honest, open way, you see each other for who they truly are; this creates a unique and trusting bond.
  • Happiness leads to effectiveness – when people enjoy their work and the people they work with in an authentic way, there is a genuine sense of collaboration and happiness, that are enablers of success.

Interestingly, in most work situations, we never really take the time to understand who the person is; it’s perhaps regarded as none of our business, or might be seen as prying into their personal lives.  In reality, personal and professional are not mutually exclusive.  Whether you like it or not, you bring your work stuff home with you, and your home baggage goes to work with you.  So why not simply embrace and understand it, and be open to the possibility that it might in fact create a very supportive work environment, that facilitates much higher levels of engagement and productivity?  If that is the case, you might also be a lot happier going home and so the cycle becomes much more positive.

Vulnerable and Teamwork

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Recently, while part of an Executive Coaching assignment at HBS (Harvard Business School), I was struck by how a team of leaders when, once given the space to be vulnerable with each other, the commitment and productivity of the group soared.productivity One of my tasks in working with this group of 8 diverse senior global business leaders was ensuring they work as a cohesive team. Though we focused on understanding cultural differences, agreeing the rules engagement, expectations, etc., it was the exercise where people opened up and were vulnerable, that had the most profound impact on gelling the group together.

This is supported by the work of Patrick Lencioni in the Five Dysfunctions of a Team where he suggests that vulnerability will greatly enhance a trusting environment, which he defines as “the confidence among team members that their peer intentions are good”.   As a result, this team over the course of 8 weeks demonstrated tremendous commitment to each other (not let anyone down mentality), great work ethic, really smart collaborative ideas and, ultimately an environment where they learned so much from each other. Why did this happen?

Firstly, as the old adage goes “you are most likely to tell your darkest secrets to total strangers” plays out because there is minimal risk that of any perceived or otherwise consequence; therefore, it is easy to be vulnerable. Most human beings really do care and when somebody shows some degree of vulnerability, people naturally want to support and help. But surely this can work to some degree with work colleagues also who, for the most part, have no personal affiliation.

Secondly, it puts everybody on a very even keel. Being vulnerable is a great equalizer, it shows you are human and what is really going on beneath that exterior. When people feel that they are among equals, they are more likely to open up and support each other.

Finally, what was clearly apparent with all the leaders at HBS was an individual strength and confidence, which worked perfectly in alignment with vulnerability. Perhaps it was this unique blend of strength and vulnerability (similar to Collins’ resolve and humility) that provided the basis for optimal teamwork based on dependability/reliability (outward strength) as well as trust/believability (inward vulnerability).

It is important to mention that being vulnerable is not about exposing weaknesses, but rather being truthful about who you are – what’s your real story??

Positive Power

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When people get promoted, it is a wonderful thing. It often comes with prestige, more money, exciting challenges and just the general recognition that is associated with it. It also comes with more responsibility and sometimes the added concern that what got you to this position may not necessarily allow you do it. Think of the best sales person becoming sales manager. So how do you bridge that gap? Some might argue that with greater responsibility comes greater power. In simple terms it means that you can exert greater influence on somebody in order to get a task complete. And with most things in life there is a right way and wrong way of doing that.
34482001 - executive businessman accuses one of his employees

Let’s briefly discuss the wrong way, which sadly for some might come very natural. This is where you force your opinion, demand results, berate people in public and, for the most part, the minimum gets done. There is a short term-ism to this approach and results will only be forthcoming if you keep re-enforcing this behavior. However, eventually people will get tired of it and fight back or they will leave. There are countless studies to support the fact that people typically tend to leave their jobs because of the abuse of “power” by a supervisor or manager.

Thankfully there is an alternative use of power bearing in mind that, when you rise to a new position, what you say or do can be viewed very differently. In his study of power and how to use it in a positive way, Dacher Keltner proposes that “practicing empathy, generosity and gratitude” are a much more effective way of getting things done. There’s a novel thought; be a decent person. Sadly, these virtues often do not come easy to people and its requires hard work, or does it really? Interestingly, going back to the sales person who became sales manager, empathy, generosity and gratitude were probably very common with customers, so what not just do the same with your reports? These virtues (or skills) exists within the vast majority of us, therefore all we simply need to is recognize their value and utility within leadership.

This does not pre-suppose either that this type of leader is soft or not willing to hold people accountability. If anything, they can be quite demanding and challenging, but its more about how they go about it, and the appropriate behaviors they demonstrate. They exhibit strong emotional intelligence and, in so doing, not alone possess self-awareness, but also great awareness of others. They see their success as being predicated on the success of others and therefore channel their power in that direction.

Help Yourself by Helping Others

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teamwork 2In a recent Harvard Business Review article by Cassie Mogilner of UPenn’s Wharton School, the hypothesis presented suggested that the more you spend time helping others, the more productive you actually become. This of course is counter intuitive, as surely time consumed helping other people is time taken away from what you should be doing yourself. However human behavior very often defies logic. The case that is being made suggests that by helping others in small ways you feel more fulfilled and time actually appears to become more expansive to complete what you need to do.

This is quite similar to an earlier piece of research whereby people who spent money helping others were much happier than those who spent it on themselves. If you feel good and energized you are more likely to be engaged and therefore committed to whatever you have to do. It feeds the old mantra that those who help others are also helping themselves.

So how does this translate into the world of work? Imagine an environment where everybody is extremely cooperative and helpful to each other; that sounds reasonable. Working as part of a team is one instant way that organizations can flourish; it forces these types of helping exchanges, even for the doubters. Or what about the leaders who claim they are too busy? This theory also supports them by encouraging more time spent helping and coaching their people. When they do, inevitably they feel much better.

People are by nature communal; they function best and at their optimal when interacting with others. By ensuring they function as part of a group and are afforded opportunities to continuously help others can only serve to improve overall levels of productivity and engagement within your organization.

Teamwork

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Much has been written about the effectiveness of teams and how varying degrees of collaboration can boost innovation, productivity and generally how businesses operate.  Sports teams share the fact they want to score more points than the opposition and therefore will formulate both defensive and offensive strategies with a view to arriving at a winning formula.  However for teamwork to truly be effective, individual and group needs must be met.

Human beings function well in teams but only if sharing a common desired outcome.   We are very complex characters and more often that not there are personal / individual agendas to be considered as well as team ones.  Teamwork can break down very quickly when opposing strategies exist often resulting to a zero sum proposition.  At the design firm IDEO, they have created an expectation around helping each other.  This is not ad hoc but where somebody’s knowledge can help, it is forthcoming even though the individual helping may not be a direct beneficiary.  What this pulls on however is the effectiveness of reciprocity and also the basic human fact that we (for the most part) derive satisfaction from helping others – individual and team needs met.

Another way of viewing this is via the Team Coaching International model which essentially describes teamwork as factors that optimize productivity (results) and promote positivity (relationships).  They claim that these two pillars create “the means to take action, and then build relationships to motivate and sustain the action”.  This is supported by the findings of Huckman and Staats (HBR – Dec 2013), in that there are also benefits to teams who are familiar with each other.  As work leads to results, relationships evolve from the time spent together, which supports higher level of collaboration and this leads to even better outcomes.

So as you look at teams within your organization, be aware of the potential opposing forces and work to ensure alignment with both the individual and group needs.

A Business Case for Helping Others

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In a recent Harvard Business Review article by Cassie Mogilner of UPenn’s Wharton School, the hypothesis presented suggested that the more you spend time helping others, the more productive you actually become. This of course is counter intuitive, as surely time consumed helping other people is time taken away from what you should be doing yourself. However human behavior very often defies logic. The case that is being made suggests that by helping others in small ways you feel more fulfilled and time actually appears to become more expansive to complete what you need to do.

This is quite similar to an earlier piece of research whereby people who spent money helping others were much happier than those who spent it on themselves. If you feel good and energized you are more likely to be engaged and therefore committed to whatever you have to do. It feeds the old mantra that those who help others are also helping themselves. Read more

Optimal Teamwork

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If a leader was to suggest that there was an absence of teamwork in their organization it would be shunned upon and seen as a deficiency on his/her part. Operating with teams just because it seems like the right thing to do doesn’t actually work. However for teamwork to truly succeed it takes a conscious effort on everybody’s part and the following fundamentals need to be present.

Clear Direction

A clear unifying path as to where the team is heading is essential. Leadership of the team can be quite but must be decisive and vocal at this point. This involves ensuring that the right people are on the team and most importantly that everybody understands the expectations of success.

Genuine Trust

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