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Effective Teamwork

Anyone who has played or consistently watched any particular team sport knows how a good team of decent players will usually defeat a group of great individuals that fail to play as a team.  Nothing is much more disgusting to watch that one, or a bunch, of selfish players who put their own desires and stats over the needs and desires of the team.  Equally disgusting too is watching a bunch of whiney malcontents.  We can “get it” sitting in our arm chairs at home or in our comfy stadium seats, but most don’t seem to get it in the workplace.  Often we’re the guilty ones at work while criticizing the players we watch!  Perhaps we ought to place some stadium seating in our workplaces and have a crowd watch our team performances.  Maybe have some reporters show up and write about our team performances in the paper each week.  Perhaps then we’d be a little more cognizant of our often too-poor attempts at any semblance of real teamwork.

Good teamwork does not happen by accident.  There has to be a plan.  There have to be overall schemes and plays—both offensively and defensively.  There have to be practices and accountability. Any coach can tell you how ludicrous it would be to get a group of players in a classroom, explain the team objectives, draw up on the white board the offenses and defenses, and then send them out to play the game without any practice, expecting a great outcome!  It would be chaos.  Great teams practice their plays over and over and in all sorts of situations.  Great teams practice their defenses over and over in all types of situations.  And then there are still breakdowns.  If you want just a “group” of people don’t practice.  If you want a true team, you’ll have to believe in its value and then work to make it happen.

Here is a brief description of how:

  1. Let mission drive organization.  Figure out what the mission is and then organize the team(s) in such a way to most effectively accomplish it.  The mission cannot be alleged; it must be real.  Never let the tail wag the dog.  The status quo people cannot control here.  Workers, and especially managers will build nests and create ruts in the workplace, and then they sure don’t like anybody messing them up.  Throw out their nests and bury those ruts if you want a productive team.
  2. Work from the inside out.  Teamwork is first and foremost a matter of heart and character.  Thus teamwork has to begin on the insides of the individuals.  Leadership has to buy into it.  Workers have to buy into it.  Everyone must come to believe in its essentiality!  You cannot recruit selfish workers and expect them to play as a team.  It simply won’t happen.  Recruit people known to be team players.  Then expect teamwork and don’t accept anything less.  Period.  Further, teamwork must begin with the managers.  Far too many managers are selfish and self-centered and then want to demand unselfishness from workers.  Won’t happen.  If a manager has managed a department any length of time you can look at their “team” and generally see that manager’s character.  The team will reflect the manager and there’s no hiding it.  If your team is cranky and negative, it’s because you are.  If your team is selfish, you probably are.  If customer service is poor, look at how the manager behaves.   If the team does not reflect the manager, then that manager is not actually leading, and some informal leader is really controlling the team and taking it in a bad direction.
  3. Have an offense and a defense.  Your offense is how you organize to accomplish your operations objectives.  Defense is how you control risks and remove obstacles to accomplishment.  Defense is how you compete against other competitors.  Team members have to know what the operations objectives are and how the team will work together to accomplishment them.  You win as a team and you lose as a team.  If the team loses, no individual wins!  There has to be leadership accountability and there has to be team accountability.  Managers showing favoritism will kill a team.  Every manager must be held accountable for the teams she/he is responsible for.
  4. Practice.  There must be team training.  You can use all kinds of simulations.  Where possible use actual work situations.  But either way, practice, practice, practice.  Practice makes perfect.  You not only DO have time for such training; you DO NOT not have time for it.  You’ll spend a little time now perfecting teamwork.  Or you will spend a lot of time later paying the price for not practicing for it.  Most managers will sweep their failures under the carpet later though rather than admitting that much of the failure is attributable to their own failures to lead their teams well.  However, all sports fans know that it takes a great coach to make a great team.  Poor coaches always lead poor teams.
  5. Continue to improve.  A team is either getting better or getting worse.  If you think your team is staying in one place—“holding its own”—you are getting worse.  Improvement must be built into the character of the organization and the individuals in it.
  6. Leaders must set the example and the pace in attitude and action.  Enough said.