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The keys to great team building

Rewarding employees for their individual achievements is often at the expense of great teamwork. Roger Philby, CEO of the Chemistry Group, looks at the right balance when it comes to engaging the individual, as well as the team.

Picture this: Joe Bloggs is stealing himself for his biggest presentation to date. With sweaty palms and racing heart, he is ushered into an executive team meeting of a hugely successful multinational company. He is there to ask for ten million dollars. Yet each executive team member appears to work alone: they each have their own goals, their own priorities and naturally, their own vested interest. Rather than pitching to the group as a whole, Joe must appeal to each and every member if he is to achieve his aim.

Jeffrey Bloggs on the other hand is taking part in organisational managerial ‘speed dating’, where 100 managers share with each other three areas of their values and motivations that they believe the other person needs to know in order to get the best of their interactions. Yet something is troubling them. The room starts falling silent in places and then descends into a hushed worried quiet. These stories are connected by one word, teamwork or rather, the lack of it. In the first instance, what faced poor Joe Bloggs at the multinational organisation was unbelievable ego and individual hubris born of success. It was not a team but a collection of individuals with their own fiefdoms and alliances. A tech boom culture of individual stock reward and celebrity status had created an environment where looking after yourself had become the means to the end.

The second example is similar but not as irrecoverable, again environmental factors had created a lack of cohesion, a lack of desire to share. In actual fact, the 100 managers taking part in the speed dating were part of The Chemistry Group’s own research programme, that when analysed, over 60 percent of these managers had a “less focus” score for teamwork in a motivation questionnaire. This is an extreme score and in direct contrast with a “content or clear” focus on something called “Project Leader” (Ego). These managers who were operating within teams were prioritising individual recognition/reward over teamwork and it concerned them.

The definition of teamwork in the Oxford Dictionary (not Wikipedia) is the combined action of a team or group. The definition of a team is two or more people working together. Simple. Simple unless from the time you enter school, you have been encouraged and rewarded to work on your own. Unless from the time you enter work, you have been encouraged and rewarded for your individual achievements. Promotions are not won and earned – in the main – because you made someone else better but because you were better. They are not given for teamwork, they are given because you were the person in charge, they are given because you produced the best results, you shone above the rest.

The argument is that whilst organisations covert high performance teams, most of their organisational design, reward and recognition actively discourage it. Furthermore, the school system is an accomplice in the murder of teamwork. The Chemistry Group believe that between the ages of 18 months and five years in this country we exist only because we are able to play well in a team. How many times have we heard parents say, “play nicely!” or “don’t they play well together?” As parents and citizens, we value and actively encourage our children playing and working in teams. What then happens is education and work attempt to beat our children’s ability to teamwork completely out of them. Individual testing, GSCEs, A-Levels, the entire system is focused on individual recognition and individual subjects. It is designed and built to groom you for a work world where individual performance is the only measure of success.

This is not only stupid but commercially bankrupt as a concept. Much like creativity, teamwork – proper teamwork, will not only create shareholder value but it is the catalyst to an inordinate number of corporate upsides, including creative thinking, initiative, agility, employee engagement and lean organisation design. Unlocking the lost art of teamwork is not an organisational “nice to have” but when deployed will be the key differentiator for any organisation: get your business working as a team and we can comfortably predict in your industry you will be the only one reaping the rewards!

The key phrase is “unlocking”, as what we found in seven years of work and research is that at a core need level, most of us have a desire to be in and play our part in a great team. Yet the research data suggests that whilst people in the workplace value teamwork, they are not motivated by it. Furthermore our behavioural data shows that in the workplace whilst people and groups and organisations perform well in “Thinking and Deliver” behavioural clusters, (gathering data, processing and making decisions whilst continually improving and executing the plans) the “People and Communication” behavioural clusters in most cases are severely lacking.

That is how people relate to each other: their ability to facilitate a discussion, an ability to influence, inspire and develop others. It appears that at work at least, we have traded intellect and operational performance, for our humanity. We have traded execution for relationships and individual achievement for collective success. How people feel at work according to Daniel Goleman (father of Emotional Intelligence) creates a 20-30 percent upswing or downswing in business performance. In his book Peak, the businessman Chip Conley argues that Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs is directly translatable to organisations.

Another inspirational leader, Ricardo Semler in his book “Maverick” showed that by removing reporting lines, devolving responsibility to collectives and rewarding on collective outcomes an entire organisation can be reborn and thrive in the most terrible of economies.

The truth is right now, more than ever, we need teams and teamwork. Individual recognition and reward at a societal and organisational level has just brought the world’s biggest economies to their knees. The tragedy is that the “egos” are screaming for the ball, they see their time to be an individual hero is now and in return, organisations are looking for a hero, whereas instead they should be looking for heroic teams. So what’s the answer? How do you create great teams and share in the upsides, seen at organisations such as, Semco (Ricardo Semler’s organisation) and SouthWestern Airlines? Starting with education, we should be rewarding and recognising collective success in education. What if classes of pupils worked for collective GCSE results? What if an A-grade student is paired with a C grade student? What if the A-grade student’s individual achievement was taken higher by her ability to help her colleague and visa versa? What if we recognised our children not on their individual grades but on those they achieved as a team?

We do it already, to some extent. Graduates achieving a 2:1 is not enough anymore for organisations, we look for volunteer work, like the Duke of Edinburgh. We look for their ability to work as part of a team already, so let’s formalise it, create a qualification in it if you must. And within work? The 100 managers mentioned earlier in the article all value teamwork but they are clearly stating they are not motivated by it and this is showing up in how they behave: lack of communication, lack of trust in peers, striving for individual recognition. Yes, they want it, but feel at the moment it is not something they get rewarded or recognised for. In other words, what is in it for them? How then, do organisations create a culture of meaningful teamwork when previously, individual success has been rewarded at the expense of employee cooperation?

Create teams that are not too big. Failure in team working comes from a lack of trust, which comes from a lack of communication. Too big and the team fails. A team however cannot be too small, unless it’s just one person, which of course, is one person too few. So create small teams, maybe six. Why so small? Your employees have probably never done this before, they need to form habits together. Think of the team of six as an incubation size before you plant a full harvest. Create a common purpose for the group. What is its meaning? What’s the rallying cry? What common aim or goal does the team need to work towards, whilst allowing each team member to shine? In our business, we want to create an opportunity for everyone to be brilliant at work.

Practice Your Communication. Myers Briggs assessments, insights and other tools like them have been created to foster communication between individuals. In order to communicate with you, I need to understand you, you being “ENFP” or “Red” is a good start but let’s not allow it to totally define you or how you see others. As children we practiced our communication, I learnt how to play with you, by simply playing with you. In work we need to practice how we work with each other before we work with each other. If the only time we are expected to be a team is when the pressure is on, it won’t work. Practice makes perfect teamwork. Have integrity. If I trust you and your intentions I will feel safe. Safety is a fundamental need, it is also why all behavioural change including teamwork is rarely seen at work, because at work we are rarely emotionally safe.

Teamwork then, is essential for the future of organisations. We need to embrace it into our work culture, we need to encourage it and nurture it among our employees. Let’s start rewarding employees who work together, rather than just rewarding the employee who achieves results on their own. Results are good, yes, but results achieved as part of teams are even better.

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