Published On: Thu, Aug 28th, 2014

Demystifying great teaming

42-20818116Great team! If your scour reading material in every walk of life, be it soccer, business, politics etc., one common theme you observe, is the success attributed to a great team. We connect these comments, at times, to the magnanimity of a star who is giving undue credit to his/her team, while he/she is the true beacon of success. This is also because we are conditioned to thrive for individual excellence and in turn admire people who have achieved it. But more often than not, you are bewildered by the beauty of collective action, an exemplary success is a smorgasbord of sundry actions where everyone around had to play a role in it …

Teaming as a management subject has been much discussed thought about and there are several books on the subject. These seminal works attempt to give you frameworks and highlight some of the common pitfalls when you build teams. But like all management topics, each of them are contextual and what suits Jane will not suit Julie. When we reminisce through our careers and experiences, each of us has travails of our own and some of these core experiences structure our philosophy on the subject. This philosophy for some, are a set of rules which govern their behaviours when it comes to teaming and for some they become anecdotes which serendipitously tell us what to do. What I write below are more of the later, some interesting themes I have discovered and have lend colour to my lens ; some I will modify with years and some will stay on…

A team is not a herd of similar people

While it seems logical that a team should be comprised of similar people, it is often not the best approach. Diversity of people in the team is important to get fresh ideas, fresh ways of thinking and the ability for, as the cliché goes, ‘think out of the box’. This realisation came when once a frustrated young recruiter in my team pleaded with me “Boss, why are you hiring people like yourself? You are already there in the team!” It was a penny dropping moment for me! Yes, I was looking for responses that align to my way of thinking in interviews. A great answer was one that I had premeditated not because it was a great idea completely not on my shelf. Research in recent times has also proved that gender diversity brings in great value. The inherent competencies women leaders display, brings in a fortune in terms of great ideas.

A team is not a solar system

It is not like a sun with multiple planets revolving in ellipses and orbits around it. It has to be like a constellation of stars. Each of them shines differently in different nights and some shine more than the others in different times in a year. Every situation needs leadership of different skillsets and orientation. A well-coordinated team has the members leveraging their peculiarities and strengths and doing the journey in the common direction. What better example than the recent exploits of the German soccer team which won the world cup! Just when you have the defence of the opposing team marking a ‘star’ another ‘star’ shines and takes a different approach to the goal.

A team is not a pack of gunslingers

Individual glory and the ‘fastest draw’ is that of the spaghetti western genre. In real life, the collective focus and distributed leadership is what wins many a situation. Great times are those where the members publicly commit to the team objectively, even if they have to downplay their interests and skill display. Collective discussions always throw up multifarious scenarios and this is necessary for a well-knit plan which envisages and evaluates different course of action. Internal conflicts are not always a deterrent, idea based conflicts are a necessity. The team needs to focus on having ideological conflicts which indulge in debating ideas and concepts and not personality based or mean spirited attacks.

A team needs a larger purpose

A collective dream has the power to enthuse and lend energy in any team. Sometimes, the purpose is so strong that the negative minds in the team also lend their efforts. This comes from the ‘trust’ that everyone is connected to a larger vision and purpose. It is never easy to align minds, but a power idea a great common thread to bond with. One is always surprised how a single purpose often brings together people with diverse ideas, ethos and experiences. It also brings in commitment with increased buy in to each action and clarity of purpose.

A team needs a win-win mind-set

The corner stone to a great team is the sense of collective victory and the ability to celebrate each other’s success. One of the virtues our schooling system needs to instil is – this value of appreciating another’s success and also that of a ‘team win. It is not generosity and altruism that should promote our complimenting a team member, it the genuine interest in the accomplishment and how that made a larger difference to the team goal. A mental victory over another team member might give one satisfaction but is never a catalyst to long term cooperation.

A team needs to breed creativity

To put it politely – the future is uncertain. We have no clue of what changes will wilt our resolves, scrap our well laid plans and trash the best of strategies. It is important to constantly churn new ideas and even encourage radical ideas. Our education system constantly creates in us a ‘fear to make mistakes’. We are petrified of making mistakes, of sounding silly or of suggesting a ‘ridiculous’ ideas. We stigmatize mistakes. A pat on the back and laughing out an idea that failed goes a long way in sending a message of – ‘It is safe to discuss ideas here’!  A culture like that lends emotional confidence to the members of the team.

Ability to build great teams is also one of the key differentiators when we research people who were successful and those who squandered great opportunities. Team structures or organisation structures have to facilitate the distribution of work, integration of ideas and the constant collective quest to seek success. It always pays to remember that you are only as good at the team you are part of!

Rajesh Nair

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Demystifying great teaming