During my fourty year career as a senior manager in the general insurance industry in Canada, I was often confronted and confounded by the word, TEAMWORK. Almost every leader I met talked about wanting better teamwork or bragging about how great the teamwork in their area of influence already was. Regardless of the confidence, cynicism or optimism of the leaders, in most cases when I spoke with rank-and-file employees, I found that overall, corporate teamwork was either sadly lacking or non-existent. In all cases, it was evident that no one at any level really knew what an ideal “Teamwork Environment” looked like.
The challenge with TEAMWORK appears to be one of perception. What exactly is teamwork? Leaders (managers, foremen, supervisors, et al) often have a different view of teamwork than that of their direct reports.
· Leaders, on the other hand tend to feel that teamwork is the purview of the team members. In other words they believe that good employees should be good team players and if teamwork is lacking, it is a result of one or more of the team members not exhibiting the qualities of a team player.
The dynamic that prevents teamwork from occurring consistently, randomly and systematically in any organization is the lack of true symbiosis between leaders and employees.
Unfortunately, in most working groups, there is seldom a close working association and cooperative relationship between management and staff that can engender or nurture a strong atmosphere of pure TEAMWORK.
· So how do we establish true symbiosis between leaders and employees?
TEAMWORK requires structure and hierarchy... Some experts would prefer to replace hierarchical structure with equality and a flat management style where everyone is a partner and everyone is entitled to share in the decision making process at all times, in all ways. In that structure all of the team members should assumedly be held accountable for challenges and failures, but unfortunately not all of them will be willing to take on that responsibility when the time comes. The result is generally a break in the chain and potential bedlam because only a few will feel the ideological desire to make final decisions and accept ultimate responsibility when things don’t work out.
My intention is not to tamper with the popular concept of servant leadership. In fact, I believe that all leaders should be servants...to a point. Strong leaders must lead at all times, they must be accountable for everything in their sphere of answerability and they must accept responsibility for the actions of their employees. They must put themselves on the line and work selflessly for a mutually beneficial end. Servant leadership is only possible when leaders are selfless and it should not be diluted by a structure where hierarchy is replaced by a confused and potentially chaotic lack of hierarchical leadership.
· Successful military campaigns are lead by great leaders just as “Super bowls” and “Stanley Cups” are won by teams with great coaches.
Running a successful organization is really no different than winning a war or a game. In all cases, the players must be able to look to a leader for direction and they must have almost blind-trust and extreme confidence in their leader to make good decisions for them...But that is not the only factor that matters.
· Good TEAMWORK is driven from the bottom up by great leaders.
A good business leader will not assume that his or her employees understand TEAMWORK. A good leader will talk to her or his employees about TEAMWORK, what it entails, and what is expected on an ongoing and consistent basis. A good leader will spend time learning the jobs of his or her employees and clarifying what is expected of each member of the team in each position.
TEAMWORK, (not unlike accounting and sales techniques) must be taught and learned. Symbiosis is not automatic and a generalized lack of engagement cannot be blamed on one or two “bad” employees.
· When an organization lacks TEAMWORK, it lacks leadership and it is doomed to turmoil and potential failure.
Great organizations monitor their TQ (teamwork quotient) regularly and take steps to assure that everyone is onboard at all times. They know that without TEAMWORK they cannot advance as quickly as they would like and that every small step forward feels like a giant, muscle-pulling leap! In order to reduce employee stress and increase profitability, great leaders make certain at all times that every employee is pulling his or her weight so that the business train can keep chugging relentlessly up the mountain of twenty-first century business challenges.
What is the TQ like in your organization? Have you monitored
your TEAMWORK QUOTIENT to make sure that your
organization has symbiosis at all levels? It is never too late to
put your Teamwork Train back on the track!