Everyone who runs a business, or is in sport, or simply is involved with various types of charity or voluntary groups – hey, even who has a family! – wants to know how to tune a team and make the team more effective. So here are my nine top tips. I say tips but rules may be a better word. But before giving them to you we ought to ask a more profound question: namely, not how do we make superior teams, but why are teams important in the first place?
There are three compelling reasons why teams are important. First, because the acronym T.E.A.M. says so! This stands for Together Each Achieves More and therein lies the essence of teams: their synergy. A group of five people might have the arithmetic strength of 1+1+1+1+1, which is 5, but a team of five people has the geometrical strength of 1x2x3x4x5, which is 120! Teams vastly outperform groups.
Second, teams are important because you – yes, I mean you – are not immortal: you will die, or retire, or resign, or transfer, or at some point leave the group of which you are member. At that point who takes over? Who succeeds? Teams ensure some genuine form of succession planning, and thus secure a legacy to the work that you have done. That’s important isn’t it?
Finally, teams are important because, well, because they feel good. That’s right. When you survey the arc of your life and ask what were the great experiences, being in the office isn’t usually one of them. Falling in love is; family and friends are; and being part of a great team is always an unforgettable experience – we were there and for each other.
With this in mind then, we can review, briefly, my nine top tips to tune a team. Tip one: be more motivated than they are. People are crying out to be led and it is down to the team leader to do that leading – and the amount of energy, of motivation, that they bring to that task has an inordinate impact on the morale and attitudes of the team. Ultimately, the team’s motivation will fall below your own level, and if yours is persistently low, then the team is in trouble.
Two, repeat this mantra every time you encounter dysfunctional behaviour: ‘Excuse me, Sam, are we team or a group here?’ and keep doing it. They will be shocked, amazed and uncomprehending. Do not stay for an answer to the question, but as you hasten away mumble something like, ‘I thought we were supposed to be a team’. This will engender worry, doubt and uncertainty in the dysfunctional players; choose your moment to enlighten them.
And to do that, you need to – three – understand the difference between a team and a group and keep going on about it. A group is just that – a group. If the whole staff of Tescos entered your business premisses, then your group would still be just that – a group, only a bigger one! No, a team is very different: it has a reason, a mission or an objective; it is interdependent on each other; it believes in teams; and finally it is accountable to each other and to the wider organisation. Be clear about this.
Four, be also clear and understand that two words are mutually exclusive: these two words are ‘team’ and ‘hierarchy’. You’ll know that there’s too much hierarchy in your organisation when you find everyone agrees with your views and deference is the norm. Group-think beckons!
Five, we spoke of the team’s first defining quality: the reason, the mission or the objective. So, clarify the objective(s). For most people and groups work is an activity of which 80% or more is wasted time; buy-in to clear, specific objectives is the antidote to this waste and the foundation of strong team performance.
With that in mind, ensure time is spent negotiating roles. One good question is: ‘how do I contribute to the objective?’ And here’s an even better one for the superior team: ‘how can I contribute to the objective?’
Seven, ensure you oil the machine. This follows from tip six: a too rigid pursuit of objectives, of what I call the ‘content’, always leads to disintegration, as even the most powerful engine will burst apart if it is not oiled properly. Oiling, in team terms, is paying attention not just to the objectives but to the process. A favourite question I have for senior teams is: ‘how do you interact with each other?’ The answer speaks volumes.
Eight: avoid blame and drive out fear. People will not give their best, or be creative, or solve pressing business problems, if they feel that making a mistake is going to have dire consequences. Blame is always destructive. Stop doing it.
Finally, tip nine: ensure accountability to the wider organisation. So far the tips have largely focused on getting the team in the right – the peak – condition to perform. But there is a danger: the silo effect, the fiefdom and empire building scenarios, wherein successful teams become detached from the wider organisation and exist to promote only themselves. This needs to be prevented at source by proper accountability controls and incentives.
Take these ideas and use them. You will find they have a major impact on your teams and so on your productivity and profitability.
About James Sale
motivation and mentoring guru, creator of Motivational Maps
James has had 17 years of intensive experience in training and mentoring people, and helping them and their organisations realise their full potential.
He is passionate about learning, about sharing his learning and experience, and about others seeing what they can truly achieve. His training and mentoring sessions are memorable: they motivate, excite and empower everyone who has the pleasure of experiencing them.
He is a Member of the Institute of Directors, an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA) and a member of the Society of Authors.
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