Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In Defense of Teams

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "No member of a crew is praised for the rugged individuality of his rowing." Is the assault on teamwork not as new as it seems, or are people simply tired of being randomly clumped together and expected to perform well together?

Echoing Emerson's words, Taylor Ellwood of imagineyourreality.com explains, "We live in a culture which emphasizes the rugged individual over the group dynamic. Also many models of business are focused on beating competitors instead of trying to collaborate with them. Team work can win, when you can show everyone involved what the benefit is."

In a recent opinion poll 61% of respondents said they preferred to work alone versus the 39% who preferred working with a team. One respondent seemed to sum up the feeling, "I hate working with teams. I feel stifled and controlled." In fact 52% of those asked agreed with that exact statement.

Les DeGroff participated in a LinkedIn Answers discussion and confessed, "I have a very cynical attitude about the ways management and "leaders" abuse the ideas of team work, lots of so called team efforts are hijacked by other models of people control." An emerging theme, he believes "organizational internal competitions dilute the stated values." Many witness the antithesis of teamwork in the office. They experience "alternatives like "gang work", "clan work", "members of the club work", "rigid pyramid" and even "kick the cat" work styles" which get mislabeled as teams. Seems like a good time to reference lipstick wearing pigs. A team isn't a team just because you call it one.

So what's going on? Aren't teams supposed to make things better? Certainly we're a society that values rugged individuality. We are also a melting pot of diversity, even if as teenagers we all dressed alike. Teams are supposed to energize, uplift and inspire, not antagonize, cause rifts and tire. They should be an additive, a strategic way of getting better results faster. So why all the eye rolling? Could it be a learning issue?

Kare Anderson, CEO of Say it Better Center, LLC movingfrommetowe.com/about/ thinks, "Often it is because we were not taught how to be MVP team players." It's not always easy for people to find common ground, particularly when they seem to be at such odds with each other. To then be thrust onto a team, or committee or commission and hope for great results is unrealistic and wasteful. Sure, everyone expects people to act professionally, but that alone does not assure success. Anderson reminds us to, "choose the right team mates so the right talents or other resources are in the team to get the top goal done, enable people to use their best talents more often, and to agree on rules of engagement (how we will work together and a timetable)." She goes on to say, it's important to "work well with people extremely different than us" because they are "often the most valuable people with whom to work."

So why the distaste if not pure anxiety over teams? James Beeler, Owner of Acquired Consulting offered the notion that "teams are not laid off, fired, or any other of the non-employment terms. It has nothing to do with the individual, but working hard, producing for the team, then handed a pink slip might serve a spoonful of bitterness." Although in the current economy, stories of entire teams being released are becoming more common, the point still stands. In the workplace people are asked to balance the needs of the team with an almost servant leadership mentality, putting the teams needs before their own. This is natural to social humans. The pachyderm was seldom brought down by a single caveman's spear. Unfortunately it is unnatural in many modern workplaces where people feel uneasy or even threatened. Their greatest priority becomes looking out for themselves, not each other. This often has detrimental effects. Just as teams properly focused and lead can perform at a higher level, those in disarray can fragment, falter and fail with alarming speed.

Good teamwork is a combination of good leadership and good followership. Two distinctly different disciples that for all the educational programs out there are so infrequently learned by people. Writing, for example, requires both. Many people think of writing is a solitary exercise and part of it is. Creating words across a blank page or screen in the late hours of the night can be a very personal, sometimes painful, often spiritual experience. But then comes dawn and the work needs to see the light of the day if it is to have any impact on the world. Screenwriting is one of the most collaborative types of writing. It begins with an idea and a blank page and ends when the final credits roll. The moments in between are dotted with arguments, concessions, rework, inspiration, flashes of greatness and flashes of doubt. Success from page to screen takes a team, actually multiple teams, all focused on a vision. It starts with the writer, evolves into the director's vision, is interpreted by the actors and is captured by an assortment of technicians.

Perhaps now more than ever we need to reexamine teams and the role we play on them. Casey Stengel said, "Getting' good players is easy. Getting' 'em to play together is the hard part." Teams need leadership and sometimes that leadership comes from within. Norman Shidle observed, "A group becomes a team when each member is sure enough of himself and his contribution to praise the skills of others."

Teamwork isn't forever, but when the right elements of leadership, followership and collaboration come together, there is artistry to the results.What do you think? Share your thoughts on my new blog The Teamwork Project.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

More on The Teamwork Project

I have the belief that teams work. Ken Blanchard's sentiment that "No one of us is as smart as all of us," has always felt like a truism to me. I found myself wondering how others viewed teams. My original intent was to discover and learn from the best teams of 2008. When I asked others their opinion I suspected a few sports teams might immediately come to mind for people. To my surprise two distinct themes emerged.

First, not unexpectedly, The Barack Obama Presidential Campaign was cited the majority of times as an example of successful teamwork. Anyone studying the campaign would be hard pressed to argue that point. It may in fact serve as the best example of leading, inspiring and managing 21st century teams.

However, discussion of teamwork beyond Barack Obama's campaign seemed to produce tentativeness. At best there was a sense that truly effective teams are few and far between. At worst, there was outright disdain for teams, primarily because most people have never experienced a "good one" or were continually forced together into "bad ones". This discovery has inspired me to create a new blog The Teamwork Project where I am exploring the issues that have risen through conversations, experiences and answers to questions I posted online. Please join the conversation and share your thoughts on teamwork. In the final days of 2008 I will share some reflections on the subject both on the blog and via the Reflections on Leadership newsletter.

The topic has become fascinating and I hope what I share will either challenge your thinking or strengthen your resolve, perhaps it will do both. Clearly there is a tacit feeling that yes, two heads are better than one. The struggle rests in finding the complementary heads, agreeing on purpose, getting results and celebrating their achievements. We'll explore that later. For now, let's begin with success. Regardless of your political bent there is much to be learned from the Barack Obama Presidential Campaign.

Team Obama

Luis Valdes, founder and CEO of PerformanceVertical consulting LLC. http://www.performancevertical.com shared the following;

"The Barack Obama campaign was the team of 2008. They defied all odds to defeat a wide-range of Democratic opponents and his Republican rival through a clear and compelling mission and vision, strong leadership, relentless and inspired coordination, grass-roots recruitment, tremendous fundraising, quick decision-making and problem-solving, an ability to say calm and on message, and an ability to remain flexible through setbacks and adversity. They were able to use "Change" and "Yes We Can" as themes to rally support; they were able to use social networking and media to inspire passion and were able to turn that excitement into action with money, resources and people. They understood that it was about mobilizing people on the idea of needing change."

Luis details more insight from the recent campaign at http://leadershippulse.blogspot.com

Similarly, Ed Runner, President, of E C Runner & Associates, Inc. http://www.ecrunner.com offered this;

"In the political arena, I think the Barack Obama campaign team did a spectacular job organizing such a large group of on the ground volunteers. The leadership that set clear understandings of who does what by when was amazing.

Also on the political front, although there seem to be numerous accounts of disorganization and lack of clarity in the Hillary Clinton campaign, their organization of their high level surrogate response team was breath-taking. Before an opponent finished a press conference, high level surrogate spokes people were in front of the camera with clear, ordered responses.

Whether you supported either of these candidates or not, I think you can admire these successful team performances."

There are already many articles written on the success of this campaign, and undoubtedly several books are sure to follow which we can continue to reference. We probably should. As Ed Runner observed, "I think most people have a vague idea of good teams. Many have never experienced one, so they have no model and limited tools." That may be an understatement.

Stay tuned because next time we'll continue to explore why the value of teamwork seems to be eluding people.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Is there a conspiracy against teamwork?

There doesn't seem to be the glow around good teamwork there once was.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Is the value of teamwork eluding people?

Is the value of teamwork eluding people? An interesting picture has emerged from a recent opinion poll on teamwork. For example, 53% of respondents felt teams are overrated versus 47% who felt they are underrated. This split fell across gender lines, with the preponderance of women believing teams are overrated. Additionally, men tended to believe the ideal team size to be between 5-10 members, while women preferred a smaller gathering of 2- 4 people.

A surprising 35% of respondents agreed with the statement, “I currently work/play with the best team ever.” Nearly 50% disagreed, and of that 25% of them were women.

What’s going on here? Aren’t teams supposed to help? Have time strapped multitasking women adopted the, “If you want something done right you have to do it yourself” mentality? What’s your theory?

Teams do work. When they work well they get desired results faster. Who are your role model teams from 2008 and what have you learned from them?

Think beyond sports teams, although they aren’t excluded. Describe how they used Vision, Passion and Action to achieve great results.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Who were the best teams of 2008?

Teams work. When they work well, they get desired results faster. Who were the best teams of 2008 and what have you learned from them?

Think beyond sports teams, although they aren’t excluded. Describe how they used Vision, Passion and Action to achieve great results.

Post your answers here by December 15th and I’ll publish the results before 2009.