For most, teamwork is merely a business buzzword, a sports term turned corporate jargon. It conjures up images of ropes courses and trust falls, off-sites and team T-shirts. The concept of teamwork is well-known in business, yet the application rarely yields the promised results. Why? Because it’s usually missing something the true essence of teamwork, which is the spirit that makes the members of the team want to succeed together.
Winning teams have a well-developed sense of camaraderie and respect the result of each individual feeling a deep commitment to the team’s mission and to his or her teammates. The more people value and honor their relationships with one another and their shared commitment to productivity, the better they perform. Effective teamwork takes the best from a company a well-crafted business strategy complete with clear objectives coupled with the best from a family strong, trusting relationships.
The CEO of a giant company in a commodity-based industry, was constantly revising his operating strategy, shaving pennies in an effort to boost margins. After exhausting all of the traditional cost-cutting strategies, the CEO turned his focus to the internal company culture, which was competitive versus collaborative among functional divisions. Recognizing that productivity could be improved with increased collaboration, he began “requiring” teamwork.
Not surprisingly, this didn’t work.
The CEO called us for assistance. He needed help developing the strategic behaviors in his team to stimulate commitment and connectedness among his employees. We started our work with a deep dive into the root cause of the disconnection. True teamwork depends on commitment and connectedness among the members, and that depends on trust. And trust depends on a sense of shared equity within the organization. The CEO’s organization was chock-full of disparities in power and knowledge. There was nothing that connected his employees except the signature on their paycheck. These discrepancies inhibited any real collaboration, and worse, they fostered a competitive, cutthroat work environment where everyone felt he or she had to watch his or her back.
The first step was to reduce the discrepancies in power and knowledge by openly sharing the company’s mission and high-level strategy with the employees. This transparency not only informed employees, but it also eased the feeling that they were just pawns in someone else’s grand plan. In addition to sharing the overall objectives, the CEO and the executives did something radical. They asked for input.
Initially this openness was met with resistance and skepticism. The executives weren’t deterred. They continued, modeling this openness in every conversation. It was contagious. A renewed energy and enthusiasm that this company hadn’t felt in decades emerged.
The CEO’s company was able to transform its environment into one that is supportive and encouraging, where the diverse strengths and abilities of each individual are recognized and incorporated into a shared vision for the future. The employees struck a balance between valuing productivity and relationships the best of a company combined with the best of a family.
All of us have experienced trusting relationships whether with our family members or friends. Ask each member of your group to identify the habits and behaviors that strengthens his or her relationship with his or her most trustworthy friends or family members. How can that habit be applied to the team? Perhaps you can create an environment where members feel comfortable surfacing issues that in the past were avoided. Ask everyone on the team to commit to the new behaviors, like allowing members to talk about hot topics without criticism. Apply this new behavior as you work to get things done as a team.
Donna Rae Smith is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a behavioral strategy company that teaches leaders to be masters of change. For more than two decades, Smith and the Bright Side team have been recognized as innovators in organizational and leadership development and the key partner to more than 250 of the world’s most influential companies. For more information, please visit www.bright-side.com or contact Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. Donna Rae Smith also contributes a weekly blog to Smart Business, The Bright Side of Change.