Sunday, August 30, 2009

What is Teamwork?

The ______ of the Leader

According to John Maxwell, "The speed of the leader is the speed of the team." While that's true, it is important to remember that the leader sets many agendas in addition to speed. Consider this phrase: The ______ of the leader is the ______ of the team. Now pick almost any word to fill in the blanks...





Rarely will team members rise higher than the standard set by the team leader. As I often share with my audiences, team members pay more attention to what the leader does than what the leader says. Ideally, there is congruence between the words and the action of the leaders. Wherever there is discongruence, followers choose to believe actions.

Are you giving team members something to live up to? Or are you a limiting factor in the team's success?

Teamwork: Where?

While working with a telecom company recently, I was reminded of a couple of points about teamwork that are seldom addressed but critically important. The first is this:

Teamwork isn't always the best means to an end.

There is much organizational work that is better done by an individual. Trying to bring teamwork to bear on every process and activity is likely to create something that has a scary resemblance to the dreaded "management by committee."

To make teamwork work, it is necessary to answer the question "Where?" Where should we team and/or partner? What areas will be improved by applying a teamwork approach?

Secondly, it isn't enough to sell the benefits of teamwork if you can't identify the opportunities. This is related to my previous point. Start by asking where in your organization teamwork is most needed. Rather than apply a general and vague team approach, target specific areas. Once momentum is gained in those important areas, you can increase the scope of teamwork.

I wonder how many team efforts crashed and burned because nobody ever asked if teamwork was desirable for the type of work being done, or identified where the opportunities for teamwork were greatest.

Middle-Down Teamwork

One of the most common mistakes I observe is what I call "middle-down teamwork." That occurs when upper management thinks that teamwork is a great concept for every in the organization except them.

Here's what happens: someone in leadership gets turned-on by an article in Fortune or Business Week about the organizational benefits of teamwork. That usually results in a mandate to create teamwork that is directed to middle management. Middle management is expected to put their people through prerequisite training and take the steps necessary to ""make it happen." Often during the initial training, it becomes painfully obvious to those involved that upper management neither practices nor supports the concept of teamwork, and that if teamwork is to happen, it will happen from the middle down. Evaluations of the training include comments like, "Why wasn't upper management involved in the training?" and "I hope our leadership takes these lessons to heart."

For teamwork to work, it must be embraced--in principle and in practice--by everyone in the organization. But, in my opinion, the best place for a teamwork initiative to start is at the top. Once employees see leadership practicing what they preach, it becomes significantly easier to get acceptance throughout the organization.

1. In successful teams, team members are interdependent. They are willing to ask for help when they need it and offer help when they can provide it.
2. Work groups compete inward. Teams compete outward. There are three things you can use to create healthy competition: a competitor in the marketplace, a team goal to be achieved or a common problem to be solved.
3. Team members are self-starters. Since they understand the big picture, they don't need to be told what to do.
4. Successful team members share both rewards and sacrifices. Don't expect people to make sacrifices if they won't get to share in the rewards later.
5. The best thing you can strive for is not a team with a great leader. The highest goal is a team of leaders.

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