Work-Life 5/21/2015

To The Moon: Shaping Winning Teams And Encouraging Teamwork by Leslie Juvin-Acker

 

Teams are more than a mere assemblage of people and talent - they’re an ethos that drives direction towards a common goal. Each part, or function, of the team moves and flows in conjunction with the others. An example is the Apollo 11 NASA space shuttle design. The intricate team of designers and engineers with special and unique functions had one mission: get to the moon first and win the space race for the USA.

Team building can sometimes be a misnomer because most teams have existed for a while, so assembling a team from scratch is quite a rarity. People come and go and so the body of the team is constantly evolving, occasionally disrupting the group for better or for worse. A vision of excellence, repeated and spoken - has to be acknowledged by each person or entity of the team every time someone leaves or joins the crew. For example saying, “X person left, so let’s continue to work in a Y way in order to meet Z goals.” This simple communication maintains the team spirit in the face of changing group dynamics therefore fostering an equilibrium of overall function towards a common goal.

In team management, surmounting the temptation of the “blame game” is a constant battle of ego for each individual member. Instead, the leader must make the choice to absorb the shocks of mistakes and failures and encourage its members to ask themselves, “What can we do as a team to avoid individual and/or group mistakes in the future?” The dynamics of the team therefore goes from “to each his own” to “all for one and one for all.”

Going back to the NASA example, if just so much as one part of the shuttle or its calculations are incorrect, an error could spell certain death for its astronauts or costly delays during a launch. While your team might not face this kind of astronomical pressure, the ideal remains that the group’s success is greater than the sum of its parts.

“Who am I to be my brother’s keeper?” you might ask, “It’s already exhausting enough to do my own job at a satisfactory level!” Fair enough. However, consider this: one part of the supply chain goes down and all other areas screech to a grinding halt. The manager who knows the jobs (and issues) that his or her team members face have more perspective and success on the long term. There is no wonder why Americans admire leaders who have worked their way up in their work - these people know the meanings of each contributing function and see all jobs as an integral part of the whole. While you might not have started from the bottom of the food chain, the leader has to remember that teams don’t serve to simply support one person at the top. Teams collectively support the whole. Compassion, a word seldom used in business, drives the intention of the group as internal dynamics are considered and directed outward toward the consumer. Your problems are my problems are our problems, one could say.

Fostering a team ethos is a job for bold leaders; leaders who are not satisfied with complacency. Steve Jobs once said, "It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do."

It takes a special kind of team leader who can adapt a trusting and empowering viewpoint towards her team. In hand with a collective consciousness of group responsibility, facing internal and external challenges proves achievable. Whether it’s the moon or a quarterly target, unwavering focus and consistent collaboration can help a team make its mark.

Questions to ask:

1.    Does our team have a clear mission? What is it?

2.    Is my team harmonious or counter productive? That is, do we let old, bad habits get in the way of our work?

3.    Can members of my team trust me enough to confide their issues and do they believe that I will answer their questions or support their needs?

4.    Do I/my team make the priority to be receptive to any glitches in the framework of our team dynamics? For example, do I actively support others in my team who are overwhelmed?

5.    Do I provide my team creative ways to express themselves? For example - anonymous messages, forums, questionnaires, group brainstorming, etc.