We do a lot of work with teams at all levels in organisations. It is fascinating that all teams have their own unique characteristics. There are not too many one-size-fits-all solutions for all teams that one can just plug in. The main reason for this is for a team to be successful there has to be a complete all-members-of-the-team buy-in to what the team is attempting to achieve. Failure to do this means that the team can never be as good as its potential suggests.
Oftentimes we see sporting teams with amazingly talented players achieving way below their potential. They may have the talents, skills, and players but they don’t have a team! Frequently you will attend a team practice and watch the team being put through its paces. Almost without exception you will not see much time being spent making sure that the team fully understand its purpose nor the criticality of mutual obligation and commitment. This is particularly the case when there is a small number of very talented individuals who dominate the attention of the fans and press. It is extremely difficult for them not to succumb to this pressure and start to believe in their own PR. This is hugely negative for the team as a team.
This is not an argument against having talented individuals in the team, but it is an argument for making sure that every single member of the team fully commits to putting the team first and their own needs second. The most talented of players who understand and buy into this benefit the most. This results in the team playing to give them the best possible opportunities to showcase what they can do with the power of team supporting them. If they stick to the individual game they will become more and more isolated and will increasingly struggle to use their rare talents to the full.
Creating an inclusive, fully committed team is the most important job of the leader of the team. His success depends on the success of the team. The bigger the organisation, the more important this reality becomes because it becomes increasingly impossible for him/her to do it all alone! Especially when there is a wealth of talent just waiting to be used!
The starting point for this adventure is to create a team culture where inclusivity is the only road to the goal. This means a culture team ambience that invites discussion, debate and disagreement so long as the aim is to make the team and all its members better at what they all do. Commitment does not just happen. Deep-seated, intimate commitment takes time and extraordinary effort and focus especially from the leadership. The objective must be to create a ‘Team first and me second’ culture. This means that the members of the team actively seek ways in which they can support each other; not look to others for support for themselves. The leadership itself needs to be sensitively aware of their impact on the team and its social-dynamics in order to achieve this. Feedback in all directions is a sine qua non for this to be achieved. This feedback must include feedback to and from the leadership.
Frequently leaders are frightened by the idea of feedback about their behaviour from ‘subordinates’. They should not be. Properly structured feedback is essential to get the team culture right; filled with positive energy and directed at ensuring white-hot focus on the vision and objectives of the team and all it needs to do to achieve them. Sometimes top teams are not confident that their subordinates will be able to step up to the plate and so they withhold their confidence, the opportunities and don’t provide the right level of support and empowerment for their teams to succeed. In this way they fulfil their own prophecy. People only grow through exposure and experience. They do not grow from intellectual understanding of an issue, as important as this may be. The best way the leadership team can grow the next tier and so develop the whole team is to be as inclusive as possible; share with them; confide in them and ask them to step up to the plate with the top team’s wholehearted support. This is teamwork in action.
At the heart of this; the essence of teamwork is a culture of inclusion, not exclusion; of sharing, not withholding; of honest, critical conversation, not secrecy and non-disclosure. Teams are not able to be fully effective in a vacuum; even a partial vacuum.
Paint the whole picture, warts and all. Invite the team to tackle it as a team. Let the team experience the lows and highs of heartache and success.
When the team begins to see itself as a unit where everyone is important for their contribution and their opinion then the team will begin to scale the heights of fully realised potential!