In the 1970’s, the Army launched a study to identify where, in their organization, race relations were the best. The answer: In a foxhole under fire. It doesn’t matter who another person is; when you’re both under attack,you have to depend on each other to stay alive.
I’ve used that story many times with clients when two people in their organizations don’t get along well. You can put them in a ‘foxhole’ by assigning them a project to work or a result to achieve — one where they have to rely on each other for successful. It’s important that one person alone can’t get it done.
Most times, not always, but most times they will find new respect for each other.
© Copyright 2016 Bob Legge
Bob Legge provides organizations with the ability to exceed their most ambitious goals. I work with leaders of Fortune 500 companies, small and mid-size companies, nonprofits, education, and government. Together, we drive strategy, lead successful change, develop high performance cultures, improve individual and organizational performance, and produce faster, sustainable growth and value. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
An article in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal about a high-school cross-country coach in suburban Syracuse was fascinating. His teams have won nine national titles in nine years without superstar runners. His success isn’t due to harder workouts, but to his philosophy of training, his inspirational leadership, and the values he espouses. Rather than focus his attention on the best runners, he emphasizes the importance of the team, and each member’s responsibility to fully devote themselves to be their best for the team.
In essence, Coach Bill Aris taps into both internal motivation and group connection, and he leads not by control, but by challenging and inspiring. Companies who want to develop greater “engagement” can learn a lot from examples such as this. It is an exceptionally good example of what Daniel Pink writes about in Drive, and what is proven over and over again in many organizations I see; that engagement comes from internal motivation, not from power, control, or external incentives. In short, if you want people to move and act, power, control and incentives can work well, but they will never engender real engagement, the kind that creates winning teams. That requires a different approach to leadership, values, and techniques.
Yesterday the Green Bay Packers, down 26-3 at halftime, came back to stun the Dallas Cowboys 37-36. It wasn’t a fluke—the New England Patriots have had similar comebacks this season. It was determination, persistence, great skill, and a bit of luck. Winners don’t give up and they seem to create their own luck.
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Organizations try lots of ways to increase teamwork among their top group, from team-building exercises and ropes courses, to training and outings. In most cases, these don’t result in operating improvements because the group at the top isn’t a team, but a committee. The difference is more than semantic. In a team, the members are all measured and rewarded on a common goal. They either make the goal or not. Also, they are usually self-directed. Committees are made up of people with different objectives. They share information and resources if it doesn’t conflict with their own agendas and needs. To attempt to build a team in a committee is futile. You can take them out to a social function together, or swing on ropes through trees, or put them through a team building retreat, but when they get back to work, they’ll still be pursuing their own agendas. Instead of teambuilding, maybe what you need is better collaboration, more open communication, or incentives that are based more on overall results.
Assessment tools (Myers Briggs, DISC, etc.) are being touted as useful ways to improve teamwork and productivity. But they’re really nothing more than a way to label people in ways that aren’t even accurate (since they are self-reported.) You might as well use a horoscope. These tools actually provide an excuse not to be honest with each other because it’s easier to label people and put them into categories than to really understand each other.
(If you want genuine personality assessments or selection tools, use a qualified professional and valid, reliable instruments, otherwise you’re on thin ice. And if you need a referral, let me know.)
The real question is: What is your objective?
- If your purpose is to start a conversation, why not use a Drucker essay, a Maureen Dowd column, or a Harvard case study?
- If you want to identify work styles, why not just discuss who works best in a group work and who prefers solitude?
- And if you want your people to work better as a team and improve business execution, an approach I often use is to help participants give each other relevant business feedback and actually listen to each other.
The real key is to change behavior, not just insights.
It’s been interesting to watch the rise and fall of various candidates in Iowa this Fall. One candidate will soar in the polls only to be attacked by the other candidates and the media who pull the leader down. It reminds me of ‘the crab pot’ – a phenomenon I learned about from the superintendent of a large urban school district. When crabs are collected and put into a bucket, they climb all over each other. Eventually the pile of crabs grows up the inside of the bucket so that the top crab can crawl over the top and escape. But the other crabs invariably reach up and pull that top crab down, and the cycle continue, it’s normal in a political campaign, but when it happens within a company, it’s dysfunctional. While some internal competition can be productive, you need to ensure that your people, especially your top management team, are collaborative, supportive, and on the same page regarding your business strategy and priorities.
The World Series reminds me that teams can take many forms. Baseball teams operate differently from football, basketball and hockey teams, but in every case, the team members are all focused on the same outcome and either they all succeed, or no one succeeds.
Most senior management ‘teams’ are not teams at all, but rather committees. Each member has his/her own agendas and goals. And they succeed or fail separately — sales may achieve their objectives, manufacturing may not.
When organizations ask me to help them build teamwork at the top, the first step is to understand whether we’re working with a committee or a team. You can improve cooperation and collaboration within a committee, but there is no overriding necessity for one group to give up resources for another.
If you want a team, here are some of the issues you need to address:
- Are the incentives and rewards aligned so that everyone wins (or loses) together?
- Are measures in place so that the team can determine its progress and self-correct?
- Can the team make quick decisions about key issues?
- Does the team represent all important operating and customer perspectives?
- Can the team handle problems candidly and openly?
Do you have a team or a committee? Which do you really need?