Warning: The following article on teams contains no sports references, analogies or metaphors.
For me, team victories have always been more enjoyable than individual victories. It may be the feeling of camaraderie, or the process of coming together to triumph over a challenge. Or, it may be the understanding that we accomplish very little on our own, and that we all rely on others for our success.
Companies spend considerable money on team-building exercises. Personality tests, motivational speakers and retreats are just a few of the tools used by organizations. The examination and sharing the results of the personality test can be humorous and insightful. A good motivational speaker helps spark ideas members of the group can use in their jobs. Well-organized retreats can establish a platform on which to build success.
While those tools can have an impact, the impact is often brief and fades with time. After morale gets low and performance declines, another team-building exercise is held. Establishing lasting effectiveness requires ongoing efforts.
Successful teams work because they’re always growing and building. Concern for morale isn’t a quarterly exercise, it’s built into daily activities. Team members look for ways to support each other. Powerful teams embrace a culture of trust, employ diversity to attain success, and support the vision of a unifying leader.
The importance of trust within a team can’t be overstated. Members need to know that they can rely on their teammates. You want to take it for granted that everyone is working hard towards the same objective. There’s not a concern that someone is trying to undercut your efforts. And it’s easier to concentrate on a task when you’re not looking over your shoulder.
Teammates watch out for each other. If one person uncovers information that affects another part of the project, the details are shared. If one member is having difficulties, the rest of the team helps out. And if someone notices a mistake, they point it out.
People who want teammates to succeed will bring attention to mistakes, not try to cover them up. If errors aren’t corrected, they compound over time and bring more problems to the team. It’s difficult to tell someone you like that you think they’re wrong. Allowing them to continue down a misguided path is worse.
You’re more apt to seek out feedback from people you trust. It’s easier to accept critiques when you know the person wants you to improve, and their comments aren’t insults or digs. An internal review by the team will make the final product or service better.
Supporting and trusting each other is important when striving for a common goal. And diversity among the group working towards the goal increases the strength of the team. You don’t want a team composed of people with the exact same backgrounds, same abilities and same opinions. A “cookie-cutter” approach is good for one purpose – making cookies.
Diversity includes many things – race, gender, age, education, experience, skills and more. Don’t define the type of people you need and then try and fill quotas. List the qualities that you want represented on the team, and then recruit people who have some of those qualities.
Don’t confuse “qualities” with “skills”. Qualities are those traits that make up an individual – personality, ability to get along with others, creativity, etc. This is what the new person will bring to the team and complements existing members. Skills can be taught.
Powerful teams build on the differences of their members. Detail-oriented people plan the steps required to achieve the ideas of visionaries. Creative people help make the numbers generated by analysts appear interesting. And leaders bring it all together into a unifying effort.
All powerful teams have powerful leaders. “Powerful” doesn’t mean charismatic or dynamic. Powerful means the leader has clear goals for their team, and is able to guide a diverse group of trusting people to the successful completion of those goals.
The leader must take responsibility for creating an atmosphere of trust. Trust starts with the leader setting the example for proper behavior. Next the leader reinforces that behavior by rewarding right actions and correcting improper conduct. The leader makes it clear that violating the principles of trust won’t be tolerated.
Building a diverse team isn’t easy. We like people who are like us. As leaders, we need to seek out people who think differently than us. While we don’t want challenging employees, we do want employees who will challenge our ideas.
The powerful leader brings unity and purpose. Individuals are naturally inclined to work first on the tasks that are self-serving. A leader helps members look outside their own wants, and focus on what the team needs.
And the leader sets the example by putting their personal desires last. The first priority must be accomplishing the goals of the organization. Next is developing the individual team members and helping them reach their potential. Only then does the leader address his/her own wishes.
Being part of a powerful team is rewarding. We’re able to perform at our best, knowing we’re supported by those around us. We learn from people who bring different experiences and ideas to the team. We’re inspired by a leader who brings us together for a common goal. And best of all, when we’re part of a powerful team, we succeed.
Mark M. Fallon is president and CEO of The Berkshire Company, a consulting firm specializing in mail and document processing strategies. The company develops customized solutions integrating proven management concepts with emerging technologies to achieve total process management. He offers a vision of the document that integrates technology, data quality, process integrity, and electronic delivery. His successes are based upon using leadership to implement innovative solutions in the document process. You can contact Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.