By: Larry Fish, President
Most, if not all business owners GreenSearch® has served over the years claim that teamwork is one of the most important behaviors they promote within their workforce. The implication is that if business owners and managers can promote teamwork within their organizations, positive results are sure to follow. Their employees will obviously achieve greater productivity by collaborating than by working independently. This kind of group interaction will provide something extra, i.e. unique insights, ideas, solutions and direction that can only come from a “team.” It is a sound concept and certainly one that should work, but unfortunately, it often fails to materialize. If teamwork is to be more than just a popular buzzword, it is necessary to examine why it doesn’t always work.
Why don’t teams “work” all the time? Our experience at GreenSearch® has demonstrated that generally, there are five barriers that have prevented or forestalled effective teamwork from happening in companies.
The following will identify those barriers to teamwork and corresponding remedies in no particular order of importance or sequence.
1. Failure to elicit complete and accurate information. If there is one thing everyone on a team should know, it’s how to probe and how to elicit information from each other. Yet, remarkably few people do know, probably because listening skills are very rarely taught in schools or colleges. Business owners and their managers should try several approaches, which include open-end (“Tell me how…”), pauses (Just listen and let ‘em talk!), summaries (“OK, let me see if I understand…”), and reflective statements (“Remember when we…”) which produce sizable amounts of information. No team is likely to blend together if it doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. Just keep in mind that complete and accurate information is rarely presented spontaneously: it has to be uncovered.
2. Promotional leadership. A promotional leader leaks his or her own ideas to subordinates before they have had a chance to state theirs (e.g., “I think we ought to change that completely, but right now, what do you think?”). Nothing will do more to stifle discussion and squelch openness. Although not deliberate, many team leaders simply blurt out their views without considering the consequences. Do not use this technique to simultaneously show a level of subtle support while making sure no real discussion takes place.
3. Intra-team conflict. Most cohesive teams don’t sit around and make “warm and fuzzy,“ non-confrontational conversation. They argue, they debate, they say things openly and honestly; they tell it like it is. However, once team members start pushing for their own separate goals and agendas, candor will disappear, questioning will place others on the defensive, debate will become dissension, and teamwork will disappear and be replaced by one-upmanship. As a team leader, make sure you do not allow private agendas to corrupt otherwise good team intentions.
4. Insufficient alternatives. A team that wants to make decisions with “something extra” in them should consider all the options before deciding. That seldom happens. Many teams feel uncomfortable brainstorming, although it’s essential to generating options. Generally, teams object on the grounds that brainstorming produces too many crazy ideas, too much talk, and too much wasted time. Make sure your team understands that exploring alternatives is not just talking, but a vehicle that allows the group to arrive at the best idea instead of merely a good idea.
5. Failure to cycle ideas downward. This is crucial. Many a good decision has died because the team failed to cycle it downward – explain it to all the people whose collaboration will be needed to make it succeed. A decision made at one level thus may never filter down to lower levels, even though those levels are indispensable to the decision’s implementation and success. This is why many a manager has scratched his or her head in anguish, wondering what went wrong!
There you have it . . . when it comes to teamwork, there is no known limit to what people can achieve. When things are really clicking and collaboration is at its best, the word “teamwork” has real meaning.
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