Teamwork and team building are increasingly seen as crucial to organizational performance, whether we are talking about a business, an athletic competition, a family, or just two workers coordinating their efforts. More books are written about team building than any other aspect of organization development. Yet it is still not entirely clear what the essence of teamwork is. One aspect is clearly that every member must perform some role that is relevant to what the group is trying to do.
Getting team chemistry right is essential to high performance. But that’s not news, so let’s get to the hard part. How can you tell if someone will make a good team member? The explosion of big data and analytical tools has not yet produced much good insight on how to staff and manage high-performance teams.
Why do so many front-line people start their jobs energized and eager to contribute, only to wind up with chronic job frustration?
If you listen to front-line team members for any length of time, you hear certain themes again and again. They do not feel valued or heard by their organizations, and that leaves them feeling powerless. Having seen so many management initiatives fail, they meet change efforts and new ideas with skepticism if not downright cynicism. They feel “one-down” and deprived of the privilege and perks enjoyed by others in the organization.
Fostering the formation of positive relationships in organizations is a topic that has been well examined. For example, a search for the phrase “relationships at work” on Amazon.com results in approximately 100,000 books. Forming close friendships at work, it has been found, tends to enhance and increase productivity and performance (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001; Dutton, 2003; Lawler, 2003).
A prominent business magazine hires a journalist to write about the chief executive of a major corporation. The man has been at the helm for several years and is considered highly effective. The journalist submits an excellent piece, capturing the very spirit of the man’s managerial style. The magazine rejects it–not exciting enough, no hype. Yet the company has just broken profit records for its industry.
As a human resource executive Michael had the unpleasant task of eliminating a warehouse manager position. It was difficult for him because the manager, Rose, was a “longtime employee, had an excellent track record, and was 100 percent reliable.” She had to be let go because her warehouse was being consolidated with four others. When he met with Rose to explain her separation package and severance benefits, he was astonished to learn some things about her family life. For the last 17 years, she had gotten up daily at 5:00 a.m.
A colleague of mine manages a high-tech team. She was lamenting an experience trying to motivate a team member, who often works from home. The team was growing, office space was tight, and one of the only offices with four walls and a door belonged to this team member. The manager asked the team member if he would give up his rarely used office to another team member who would benefit from the added space and privacy.
When conversations go wrong, when our best advice is ignored, when we get upset with the advice that others give us, when our subordinates fail to tell us things that would improve matters or avoid pitfalls, when discussions turn into arguments that end in stalemates and hurt feelings–what went wrong and what could have been done to get better outcomes?
IMAGINE CONDUCTING this experiment. Put five monkeys in a cage with a bunch of bananas hanging from the ceiling. Underneath the bananas, place a ladder just tall enough to reach them. Then any time one of the monkeys tries to climb the ladder, spray the entire cage with cold water. Quickly, the monkeys will learn to avoid the ladder and abandon their quest for the bananas.