How to make a team work

How to make a team work

The human race owes much of its success to teamwork. You are strong, you do the heavy lifting; I am dexterous, I thread the needles. I may compete with you to demonstrate my efficiency or productivity or creativity just as you may complete with me. But we see our cooperation as vital because the real competitor is the rest of the world, not each other.

The ingredients for a good team start with a common purpose because goals, useful as they are, tend to be transient and hard-faced. Purposes are more lasting. A team that shares a common purpose succeeds. How do you reconcile your team’s quite disparate purposes – given that you will have differing education and skills levels, differing age groups and people with differing needs because of their being at different stages of their lives?

You establish their personal purposes and needs before you start on the team’s purposes. It is astonishing that when interviewing for jobs the interviewer seldom asks about the personal objectives, hopes, aspirations of the candidate. If these are not aligned to the company’s needs the new employee won’t work successfully or remain loyal to the firm. Equally amazing is that those entering partnerships seldom enquire about the potential partner’s objectives. And yet, if they are not accommodated the partnership will fall apart.

Every team has a team leader. S/he is responsible for making the team work. But so are the members of the team. They will only do that if they are informed. Transparency in a team is the second most important ingredient. Lack of it will make a team political. The leader must ensure that, apart from his or her leadership, there is little hierarchy in the team. There will be a natural order, as in any group of people. But official hierarchies are for the birds.

Should a team socialise? My answer is ‘yes’ but there are other acceptable answers like ‘no’. It depends on the cultural norm of the society. Where it is possible, socially cohesive teams work better than those that meet only at work. Of course, socialising must involve families and not be simply a booze-up for the workers. As a team leader it is amazing how much you will learn from seeing and listening to the other members of your team’s families.

Whether a team socialises or not its own interaction must be informal. Long meetings with prescribed agendas lead to drowsiness and surreptitious game playing. Make your chats informal, about things that matter now. Occasionally, preferably at the end of the day after work, take a couple of hours to do a tour d’horizon and have an overview of the world the business is in, where it is going and what to expect as the next challenge. Raising the eyes of your team above the horizon from time to time is a key requirement of the team leader.

Let all members of the team learn from failures. It is not rubbing the nose of the person who has failed in the muck but letting them teach the rest what was the trap they fell into and how to avoid it. Leaders must coach their team members – and if they don’t know how to do that they should learn. A few sessions will teach them what they need to know. It will help them for the rest of their lives. Or they can employ an outside coach, usually to great advantage.

Managing a team is a difficult job. It needs attention, thought, commitment and skill.

When done properly it creates the most productive human grouping on the planet.