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  • Writer's pictureMartin Sealy


I am often asked the question, what are the some of reasons behind teams, that just don’t work.

Recalling examples of team-based engagements, spread across different locations, different geographies, all containing their own inherent cultural and personality differences, there are many similarities of the challenges these teams seem to face. One of these particular challenges worthy of note was, team members striving for significance amongst their peers. The desire for individual acclaim, superseding the desire to be ‘just another’ team member.

This finding is nothing new, given the societal celebration of individual accomplishments, which is commonplace in many cultures. The reasoning being, by celebrating the success of ‘the individual’ it would inspire ‘the many’ to similar feats of accomplishment. Ironically (one could argue), you drive the very behaviour, which is contrary to promoting effective teamwork, where individual priorities are chosen over that of the team.

“So, how do we reward and promote individual excellence, yet drive the behaviours that enhance teamwork and the associated benefits?”

Creating teams that the individual and the collective, both exceed their expectations and grow by being part of that team, can be very difficult. Symptomatic of these dual outcomes being achieved, is the amount of 'discretionary effort,’ on display; (voluntary contribution, evidenced by team members coming in early and going home late, on a routine basis).

At the MS Impact Group, our primary objective, when working with teams is, to create a repeatable process, that regardless of the team makeup, location, or personalities involved, there is a greater chance of success. Of the many facets involved in service of that objective, four stand out, which are the hardest to create, yet produce an extraordinary payback, over the life cycle of the team.

Core facets of Team Effectiveness

1. Universal Trust - a level of trust that is distinguishable by the creation and sustainability of an environment, which enhances rather than detracts, when things become difficult. A type of trust that brings with it, structured intimacy between members, which facilitates conversations that cut to the heart of issues, regardless of the difference of opinions or viewpoint. Trust that takes a tremendous amount of care and patience to create, as members can be open and honest within the confines of the team, without concern of recrimination, or the potential for exposure. This can be referred to as 'vulnerability-based trust' in the work of the acclaimed author Patrick Lencioni. The hardest part of its attainment being, (for many working inside organisations), accepting the notion of being vulnerable being a good idea! This is why just like any seed put to ground, in order to grow, there is a degree of protection and care required as the conceptual roots take hold, both inside the individual and then collectively within team value set. The thing there is no getting away from is, the leap of faith required, given the proliferation of the opposite to this type of trust, being so frequently the norm. In the face of these barriers to change, the courage of those who would think and act differently is not to be underestimated.

2. Building upon Differences - team members interacting as a ‘known quantity’ to each other. With each member, able to preserve their unique view of the world. Their differences respected by design and protected as an asset. The unique makeup of the team being maximized, by expecting to be part of a multidimensional team thought process. These attributes are a fundamental shift from many of the corrosive team dynamics we have witnessed — where whoever shouted loudest was considered first, their opinion disguised as fact, regardless of accuracy or appropriateness to the situation at hand. The quietest in the group, relegated to the least listened too, despite the distinct capability they were brought into the team for in the first place. Often the ingredient most influential when present and most missed when absent, was the degree of respect towards the ideas of others. When present, the smallest of ideas being allowed to grow from their embryonic state through to full maturation, with many contributors along the way. When absent, siloed thinking, with unspoken ideas that remain in their infancy, never to see the light of day, and ultimately benefit the team.

3. Uncovering Blind Spots probably one of the most important team capabilities is the net result of the first two components combined; universal trust and building upon differences. Within a team framework where members are as open to their deficiencies as well as their strengths, that promote different viewpoints by design, providing the opportunity to ask consistently; what are we missing? Used as a regular process of exploration, within the context of the team, as well as by each team member on themselves. This concept expanded is exemplified in Edward de Bono’s "Six Thinking Hats", where the multidimensional view of any one situation creates a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view, with the obvious associated benefit. The principle is as important as the outcome; ‘there is no one view which contains all the story’. It is the composite of multiple views which allows the depth, breadth, rate of change etc. of any one situation to be appreciated. By embracing the fundamental nature of what it is to be human, and the distinct ways the brain works. If challenged in the right way, producing different views, inspired by different thoughts, in order to change the very nature of the problem or situation being viewed.

4. Team Leader Attributes: The impact of the team leader, should never be underestimated. Done well, it includes adherence to a principle-based leadership approach that endures, and that brings about innovative thinking, regardless of the pressure, felt by the team. The demonstration (within their leadership capability) of the behavioural skills and dexterity required to lead by example and not just words, is paramount. These qualities were never more critical than at the height of team disputes, in the aftermath of things not going to plan. These moments of drama and high emotions would present a unique opportunity, to demonstrate the very core values the team would ultimately fall back on. The importance of team leadership is never more apparent than in its absence. This very opportunity to build closer relationships, when things go wrong, is substituted instead, for the worst of human nature, with often long-lasting scars on the very soul of the team. Be under no illusion, leadership is probably one of the most overused words and written about given its mercurial nature and illusiveness. Yet it does not mean there are not ways to foster the very best of each other, by dealing with our frailties as well as the potential for greatness, if we are given environments which foster such outcomes, led by individuals, so minded to do.

Closing Thought

Given the reality on businesses today, (the pressure on results, under-resourcing, time constraints, etc.) stress becomes a fundamental consideration, all too often, the norm for many teams rather than the exception. Operating within this paradigm, bringing together talented individuals, and getting the best out of them, demands a systematic approach to collaborative thinking. All the while, preserving the very asset which is critical to the success of any business, the people charged with producing the results. But of the difference which seems to resonate most, from the cases looked at is, the facilitation of individual personal growth while simultaneously, being part of a team.

The structure administered by the team leader, where differences are not only encouraged, but celebrated and applauded on a routine basis, creates room for the ultimate individual success within a team structure.

So, in this world of constant change and the desire to produce predictable outcomes that can be forecasted, the notion of a team leader continuously looking for improvement in previous performance, never satisfied that they have ‘cracked it’, is paramount. Particularly when these improvements are as equally concerned with the care of the individuals producing the results as they are with the results they are producing, as the two are so inextricably linked. Incremental change, based on the fundamental empowerment of the team members, as well as the systems and processes they are making use of, are the attributes of a team leader which we consider invaluable.

“Despite the inherent nature of these seemingly opposing forces, tackling them as a strategic objective in creating the team from the outset, is one the core fundamental differences in approaches that makes the difference over time”

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