History tells us that great teams achieve the near impossible. We see it in Olympic sport, in medical research, the arts and military, and particularly in business when great teamwork turns a mediocre plan into an outstanding result.
However, we live in a nation where every enterprise calls a group of more than two people a team. Even in small businesses there are leadership teams, sales teams, business unit teams and project teams.
Do you find it strange that organizations say they have teams, then complain about disunity amongst leaders and silo behavior slowing the business and disrupting service and the bottom line?
The harsh reality is that these businesses regularly use the word ‘team’ to describe business groups or functions and yet fail to develop the single greatest capability to succeed in the complex and ever-changing world: having the whole business work together as one team.
It is a recipe for mediocrity and it causes untold damage to businesses in every sector.
What does ‘work together’ mean for business?
Four characteristics will tell you immediately if you have people working together in a one-team culture:
• Your leadership team is united and they collaborate outside of formal meetings
• Functional experts and teams openly work with others to tackle the business challenges
• Managers and employees work like partners to help each other to perform
• The business is nimble and adapts quickly to opportunities and threats
These four areas can be summarised as leadership, teamwork, performance and change. They are the pillars on which you can build a strong business culture.
Use five crucial practices to build your team culture
While there is much written about team building and bonding, the reality is that these are short-term fixes at best.
From business leaders to sports coaches, successful leaders are deliberate about building a one-team ethos into day-to-day behavior because without this, the spectre of disunity and silo behavior soon emerges under pressure.
On the positive side, by developing a one-team culture you can respond quickly to opportunities, better servicing key clients and capitalising on marketing and sales initiatives.
The Think One Team model has identified five crucial practices that characterise the behaviors and culture of organizations that have great teamwork within and between teams. You can use these to strengthen your business culture and performance.
1. Share the big picture
To establish and build a team that performs under pressure you must ensure that everyone and every team knows and shares their part in the bigger picture. That picture might be of the business vision and values, or simply just understanding workload and priorities in the next few weeks. Without it, your employees’ likely response to pressure will be to get busy and blinkered which means gaps, duplication and inefficiencies.
Sharing the big picture starts with you and the way you interact with other leaders in the business. There are many clever ways that effective leaders share the big picture:
• Define a small set of ‘trademark’ values and behaviors that you want to characterise the business. If possible, get the whole team involved in formulating this because it will generate energy and commitment.
• Get into the habit of engaging people early in any new initiative. Keep them informed, explain the ‘why’ behind decisions and consider the impact change has on people.
• Use 3-monthly updates to share the big picture of the business plan and goals.
In a busy world, in even the smallest of businesses, people lose motivation and direction if they don’t understand the bigger picture.
2. Share the reality
If there is one characteristic of high performing teams that sets them apart it is open and honest conversations. They don’t sugar coat their stories, they seek, offer and receive feedback and they respectfully challenge each other.
When the opposite prevails, people avoid and deny reality – which puts your business at risk because people won’t raise concerns.
One of our clients has embedded the Think One Team method into his small business using the following three guidelines to which all managers are committed:
1. Put values first in recruitment decisions
A recruitment choice puts the business at risk. Be fully accountable to get the right values fit for your business. Never recruit a technical expert no matter how good they are if their values don’t fit. If in doubt, use psychological profiling to support your decision.
2. Do not compromise on behaviors
Immediately call behaviors that don’t fit the culture. Be accountable as a leader because what you accept, you approve and that will become your culture.
3. Ask for and gracefully accept feedback
Regularly seek feedback from your team and colleagues. Receive graciously, reflect slowly and then act on what needs to change.
3. Share the air
Do your people share the air? Do they listen to each other and respect the diversity of views? Do they collaborate on the most pressing business problems? If so, then you are building a nimble and adaptive business.
The alternative is stifled communication that slows down the business and often leads to finger pointing and blame when things go wrong.
There are simple yet powerful actions to take to strengthen this practice.
• Instead of meetings where people just present information, set them up to brainstorm and share ideas. Pose questions such as ‘What’s the single most important thing for us to improve in the next month?’
• Bring together people with different skills and backgrounds to work on key problems and initiatives.
• Hold ‘whole-of-business’ get togethers regularly so that people get to know each other as people, not just in their business roles.
4. Share the load
When your team culture really starts to ‘tick’, the fourth practice happens spontaneously as people understand what the load really is, and they collaborate to get the job done while playing their own part.
The alternative is what people call ‘look after your own turf’ and you will see it as in-business competition, and narrow self-interest.
Here are five ideas to create a ‘share the load’ culture:
• Bring people together to jointly plan and prioritize
• Ask for help and seek help
• Get the right people in the right jobs
• Roll up your sleeves and help out
• Encourage people to find ways to simplify the business processes
Of all the possible actions, the biggest single contributor to sharing the load is planning and prioritizing together. Have a ‘top 10 priorities’ list for the business and make sure that everyone can see their contribution to those items.
5. Share the wins and losses
In strong teams everyone wins and loses together, whereas in the alternative play ‘I win, you lose’, people take credit for wins, while blaming losses on others.
You have a vital role to play here in instilling frequent good-quality debriefing because this creates the expectation and the opportunity to celebrate successes, learn from these and from the setbacks, and turn lessons learned into lessons applied.
Here are four questions to ask your team to prompt some ‘share the wins and losses’ behavior:
• Are we winning?
• Have you recognised someone’s effort today?
• What wins can we celebrate?
• What have we learned in the past month?
Where to begin?
From small businesses to large corporations the team culture is always a reflection of the unity and day-to-day behaviors of the leaders.
Investing in developing a united leadership team is as vital as having effective financial systems and controls.
You can set up your team for success (and take the load off yourself ) by developing a leadership team that brings the five crucial practices to life in your business:
• Instil vision, values and purpose (share the big picture)
• Foster openness to have the robust conversation (share the reality)
• Engage everyone’s ideas and energy (share the air)
• Be accountable for your job and for collaborating (share the load)
• Debrief, learn and adapt together (share the wins and losses)
The time invested, particularly if guided by a skilled facilitator or coach, will set up your business for success and that arguably is your most important role as the business leader.
This is a slightly amended version of an article written by Graham Winter, an executive director of Think One Team International and the best-selling author of Think One Team. He is a former three-time chief psychologist for the Australian Olympic Team (including Sydney 2000). It has been shortened to make it suitable for web publishing.