Douglas McGregor, writing over 60 years ago in his pioneering book “The Human Side of Enterprise”, stated that “Most teams are not teams at all, but merely collections of individual relationships with the boss. Each individual vying with the other for power, prestige, and position.”
This judgement by McGregor is in stark contrast with the relational team working shown in the image above. The message of this photo is that here is a team of players united around agreed and commonly held values, vision, and goals. They are united in delivering agreed goals from a platform of mutual trust and vulnerability, the ability to have fierce issue-based conversations, commitment to agreed actions and accountability.
Yet sadly, when it comes down to it, McGregor’s judgment still rings true. Many teams are teams in name only and, at best are a group of talented individuals who all work at the same place and, hopefully, are to some degree aligned as to values and goals. Even more damaging, is when the group of individuals is riven with egos and competing demands. In this situation, whatever the individual talents and capabilities of members, the so-called team will not succeed in the long run since it contains the seeds of its own malfunction/destruction.
So how do you set about building a coherent and effective team? The foundational element of this process is trust – and not trust as we tend to think of the word. Our normal understanding is that of technical competence – I trust you to do a good job whatever is your technical skill – marketing, IT maintenance, financial management etc. And of course, expertise in these technical areas is important – it is the primary consideration upon which many firms base 100% of their hiring policies.
However, in terms of developing an effective team, then the other kind of trust based upon the safety of the individual as a person comes into play. The fact that we can rely on our fellow team members to be open with the meeting about difficulties they are facing; to express what they genuinely think of ideas on the table; that they are seeking the best solution for the business and not trying to preserve their own “silo” and so on. This attitude within the team is not easy to develop since it implies a process of getting to know each other well rather than just superficially, and of being vulnerable with each other. It means spending time working on these areas as a team and not just on the business side of things.
In other words, this goal of achieving effective team working expresses an intentional purpose. In short, great teams do not just happen they require committed input from all members and hard graft to build robust relationships. Necessarily, it also implies a small team. For example, if it is a core leadership team, then seven or eight members and not more than twelve. Since, as the team grows, the effort required to ensure that it works effectively increases more than proportionately.
From this foundation of trust, the team can then build these other three critical effective behaviours:
- Being able to confront and deal with conflict positively. The team can have fierce conversations around key issues without descending to personal bickering.
- Committing to joint decisions whole heartedly (even if they were not your preferred option) and the elimination of passive-aggressive behaviour.
- A willingness to be held accountable for results and behaviour.
A team exhibiting these behaviours will be an unstoppable winning team delivering top results and creating a great work culture. What is not to like about success and fun at the same time?
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