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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Revisiting the "Team" Metaphor

The terms team building and team have been so prostituted and distorted beyond recognition  that when people ask me to facilitate a team building event, a lot of them don't really mean it literally. It could mean either of the following;

  • company outing with a better name for faster  budget approval
  • a brainwashing session
  • attitude adjustment workshop for rank and file employees who are being blamed for the team's poor performance
  • a rare opportunity to tell others off about their bad behaviors and put them in their place
  • did I say company outing?

But what should it be about, really?  I guess the best way to answer that question is to go back to what being a team is all about and what team member behaviors should be used as a model for organizations who want to build a team culture. When we say team, the picture that comes to mind is that of a competitive sports team. So, what do we know about them, and how should we apply them in our own so called team? Here are a few things:

Clear Goals
Any decent sports team member should be able to tell you what the goal is. There is absolutely no doubt about what it is. Every member participate in the planning, practice,  living their own personal lives and playing the game with this goal in mind. Teams pursue strategies and change them altogether depending on their assessment of the need. Each player may have a different role but there is no question why they do what they do.

What Can we Learn Here?
 If you are keen on building your team, you need to work on making the team goal unequivocally clear and how everyone should contribute to achieving it. I've seen leaders assume that this is clear but 9 out of 10 groups I tested got mixed understanding of their team goals. It's hard to commit to something that is not clear. Each leader must make sure that people have no doubt about what the goal is and what they are expected to do to contribute to its achievement.

Role Clarity and Competence
In a sports team, members are clear about what the individual role is and how it relates to others. The roles are given because of the known ability of a team member. You won't be given a point guard or a quarter back position if you are not tested on your ability to deliver. In basketball, the number of rebounds, passes, steals and assists pave the way for the number of shots and hence, scores. Team members responsible for these tasks strengthen their ability to execute but not in a vacuum. Imagine perfecting a blind pass without somebody to work with. That would be utterly silly! In professional sports this business of finding the right team member and making sure that they are capable of delivering the performance expected of them is a serious business. It takes scouting of talent, trying them out and getting them to countless hours of capacity building training.

What Can We Learn Here?
The answer is many. First, don't hire anyone who do not have the slightest potential to do the job well. Teams select their members well. Screen your prospective team members well. Have a means of knowing their strengths, weaknesses and other potentials. When you see it, decide if they have a place in your team.  Second, train them well. Train them to be effective team players and not as individual contributors. Make it clear how their roles impact on others and then let them collaborate and cooperate towards effective handover. If we do this effectively, we should be able to prevent silo building in our own organization. Without those imaginary silos, we can truly behave like a team.
(Learn how to effectively screen candidates here)
Clear Accountability
In a team, if one makes a shot, the whole team feels it, if a ball is stolen, they feel it too. The fans(stake holders) react to each player's behavior or performance. Team members are quick to pat each other in the back  or give a high five when a good deed is done. They are also quick to acknowledge when a false move is made. Team members act to encourage or call the attention of the erring team member just to remind them that everyone is a stake holder in each, pass, steal, rebound and shot made. Members are held to a high standard of performance and know the price of not meeting those expectations and standards. It could mean the bench or worse  the door.

What can we learn here?
Following the hiring and training of team members,  make it clear what the expectations are and how they can expect to be treated if those expectations are not met. Build rules of engagement in terms of everyone's responsibility in making each other accountable for each others performance by acknowledging good performance and calling people's attention and offering help if and when needed. I believe that this is a must-have in any serious team building endeavor.

Strategizing and Applying
There's only three minutes remaining and you are down six points. Your opponents obviously got you figured out. You call a time out and discuss a change of strategy. Members ask questions, air concerns, you clarify or adjust your strategy. Team executes. If they execute well, you gain lead and maybe win the game. If they don't or if you pick the wrong strategy, this becomes a lesson to be discussed in the next team practice. If you are good team, this experience aids you to come out a better team in the next opportunity.

What Can We Learn Here? 
Teams, at least the good ones are agile. They evolve because they look closely at their experience and ask themselves how they can be better. They ask, answer and apply. That's problem or opportunity recognition, solution formulation, and then application. It's an ongoing cycle of effort to continually improving, knowing fully well that if they cannot outdo themselves, another team will. It's a system adopted by every decent team. I think those who are keen on building a strong team needs to adopt a similar system if not better. There has to be a system and everyone in the team should be committed to it.  You have to ask yourself if your team has a method for maximizing the lessons from your experience. If none, I think it's high time you figure out having one.

Team success is a combination of talent, individual commitment to goals and strategies, collaboration, cooperation and learning at work. It takes a leader who puts on a coach's cap and take that role seriously to make all these happen. Again, John Maxwell is right in saying that everything rises and falls on leadership. You want to build a team? strengthen your leadership skills and take your role in team building seriously.

Need help building your team? Let us help. Click here
Need help equipping yourself to effectively lead your team? click here
Want to build a cohesive management team that unites to lead the whole organization? Click here
Or better yet, call me at 639189399294 if you wish to discuss your current team situation so we can build a partnership that will help you get your team to the next level of performance.


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