Teamwork – The Last Great Business Urban Myth

Teamwork – The Last Great Business Urban Myth

Pick up almost any Business book on Sales Management, Leadership or Strategy and you will doubtless find many references to the importance of teamwork and team-building. Laudable though these are in exhorting managers and leaders to develop, nurture and encourage a ‘team culture’ or ‘shared ethos’ within a group, many of them simply do not work. It is a sad fact that many ‘teams’ are not teams at all, many do not actually exist outside of the imagination (or, more often, wishful thinking) of the leader.

We have seen so many examples where a leader has asked for support for the ‘team’ only to find we were dealing with a collection of disparate individuals whose only common bond was that they were compelled to share the same physical space for 35 hours per week. In any other regard, and by any other metric, these were not teams, except for the fact that the leader hoped and wished they were.

So what steps can one take in order to actually develop teams? If taking disparate groups of individuals and welding them into cohesive units is such a desirable state of affairs (and it is), what can be done to develop teams and grow a shared, common ethos? In short, if all the textbooks tell us to develop teamwork, what, on a practical basis can we actually do about it? Below is a an absolutely non-definitive list of things leaders need to consider to get the job done.

1. Identity – Does the aspirant team have a clear, unambiguous and compelling raison d’etre? Do they know what their purpose is, why it is important and why it is, in it’s own way, worthy?

2. Roles – Does each member of the team understand and ‘get’ their own role? Remember that wonderful (and quite possibly entirely fabricated) story about the guy who was the toilet cleaner at NASA who, when asked what he did for a living replied “I’m helping to put a man on the moon”. Do your team know why they are there? Do they know why the others are there? Do they know why they are necessary? Why their colleagues are necessary? Without a shared and compelling sense of purpose there is no team there is just a group (and groups are easy).

3. Politics – If people lack any kind of clarity then they will tend to try and grab power. In Roman times this would involve discrete plotting, the spreading of rumours, the canvassing of support and then the (often bloody) toppling of the leader. Despite all our 21st century sophistication, our Apple Mac Powerbooks and Cafe-Latte culture, we have not moved so far from this ethos today. If People are gainfully employed in the pursuit of noble and/or worthy goals they have neither the time nor inclination to plot and stab one another in the back. Corporate Politics, by its very presence, is the acid-test of teamwork, if you have politics, you do not have a team.

4. Purpose – Does your team have a clearly defined, single, noble, large purpose? The old idea of the ‘Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal’ applies here. Do not waste your time in forming ‘Teams’ for tiny or insignificant tasks – it cheapens the entire process. Have a dream, ‘sell’ it to others and when (and only when) you have a collection of people with overlapping but largely non-repeated skills and experiences, united behind this common, worthy cause, only then do you truly have a team.

Fred Mills

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