If You Have To Tell Your People They Are Part Of A Team? ?They Probably Aren’t! (The Dilemma of Team Management)

Most of my life, somebody has been trying to make me part of their team. If it was not Little League, it was the Boy Scouts. If the Boy Scouts gave up, it was the High School. Nevertheless, one way or another, I was going to be a “team player.” Even if I did not know what constituted the team or where it was headed, and why it wanted me to be on “it.” I was destined to learn the importance of being a team player. Whether I liked it or not! If I thought it was going to change when I got to the “grown up” world of business, boy was I wrong! Team building meetings, team consensus reviews, team initiatives, and team-teams. Everybody wanted to form a team, be on a team, lead a team, be part of a team, and in the more strategic sense, teams wanted to partner with other teams. Probably to formulate inter-team and intra-team team plans. The other day I received a catalogue of business “stuff” you can order. You probably get one, or several, of these catalogues a year. Along with executive novelties (Big Boy Toys), the list includes Team Player Paper Weights, Team Player Wall Plaques, Team Player Crystal Sort-Of-Things, and Team Player Pen and Pencil sets. The immediate impression one gets is that “Team Players” like cheap stuff. The other is that people who decide on who is a team player and who is not place little real value on “Team Playing.” After all, if team playing is such a big deal, why aren’t the prizes better? Moreover, don’t you wonder sometimes? If you are trying to build a team, does it really make sense to pick out one person a quarter and declare them the “Best Team Player”? If you are a team, how can you tell? Isn’t their work interwoven with the rest of the teams? So what is all the fuss about? You would think after all these years that the teams would have been formed. The rules written. The coaches in place and “let the games begin.” Nevertheless, it has not turned out that way. Why? Well, there is a flaw in the system. A missing piece of logic. There are some things you cannot teach. You do not breathe because someone told you to breathe. You breathe because that is what you do to stay alive. It is an essential part of your life. Even if you never receive a “Best Breather” crystal-sort-of thing award, you would still be highly motivated to breathe. As so it goes with “Team Playing.” You do not “tell” people they are a team, you work together to build a team. Or, more accurately, you fuse yourselves into a team. However, team playing is not a “device” you pull out of your management bag-o-tricks. You have to mean it, everyday. More importantly, the team has to feel it. They have to believe they are a team, to be a team. In Recruiting, we have to be a team. (I mean, we are surrounded and outnumbered – we got to stick together.) There are too many pieces and components in the process for us all to be running around with our personal agendas showing. A team needs players, and it needs a leader (coach, actually). Have you ever been on a real team in business? Would you recognize one if you were in one? Can you be sure that the “team” you currently lead is in fact a team and not merely a lose collection of “yes” persons? Are you a team leader, or a team slogan master? Try these questions out for size:

  1. Do you set the agenda for team meetings without the team’s real input?
  2. How often during meetings do you recommend that a difficult or disturbing problem be discussed “off line”?
  3. Have you ever assigned somebody else to “chair” a team meeting?
  4. Who decides the tools that will be used to measure the team’s performance?
  5. During team meetings, do you speak more than 10% of the time?
  6. If you were on vacation, would the team still meet if you did not make prior arrangements?
  7. Do you interrupt others to make your point?

If you are the leader of a real team, your answers should be:

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  1. No.
  2. Never.
  3. On regular rotation.
  4. The team.
  5. No.
  6. They would want to.
  7. No, never.

So if you are not a team, how do you become a team? Well, you could have a meeting of your employees and ask them what it would take to make them feel like a team. It may not solve all your problems, but at least you will prove to yourself and your employees that you are sincere. However, there is a lot more you can and should do to build your team. A team needs a common goal or set of goals. These goals must be obtainable, make sense, and be shared by the team. You may want to improve performance so you will be promoted. Nevertheless, unless the team is in a hurry to get rid of you, is this really a “team building goal”? If you are leading a Staffing Team and your mission is to increase the number of positions filled per month, find the aspect of that goal that would be acceptable to your team. For example, “If we can increase the closure rate, we can increase the time available for individual training and strategic planning. Get out of our current reactive mode.” Now, if that also gets you promoted, so be it. But, you have found a reason why the “team” should want to succeed. Ergo, a team goal. All the players on the team must have a part to play. If there is a perceived “pecking order” based on favoritism, the scramble not to be last in that pecking order destroys the team. Individual performance must be measured and rewarded, that is a fact in business. However, that performance measurement can be conducted outside your role as team leader. The review, career management, and training of your employees must remain an individual function. At team meetings, however, the emphasis should be on what the collective has accomplished, failed to accomplish, plans to accomplish, and reviewing the teams procedures and process. This is not the time to point out individual successes. The team is doing well, or the team is doing badly. No matter how good a game the pitcher played, if the outfield was asleep, the game was probably lost. Praising the pitcher does not fix the outfield. A team needs a leader, not a dictator. If you want your people to feel empowered as a team, you have to empower them. The theory behind team building is that the collective wisdom of the many, on average, exceeds the wisdom of one. Your people must feel that their contributions are not merely being “allowed”, but are part of the expectation of the company (You) require if they are to succeed. I use the word “require” because if you are on a team, you are required to play. Although it is wrong to be arbitrary in your management style of a team, there is a need for the team leader to set the rules of conduct. If you want to stay, play. If you say it, you should do it. Many would-be team leaders make great speeches and then fail to follow through. Have you ever started a meeting by encouraging input? Did you make a positive or negative comment after each contribution? Did the contributions suddenly stop? On the other hand, did you let the team run with the ball with but a few directional signals from the sidelines. Your team has to feel the intellectual freedom to try new ideas, processes, or plans if the force multiplier of the team is to work. But, if every comment gets a pass or fail grade at its inception, do not expect people to run to “team practice” with any real enthusiasm. Develop your assistant coaches by letting them handle a few games. Miss an occasional meeting and assign a designated hitter. Have that person report to you after the meeting. Review the meeting and their handling of the topics of the day. Attend a few meetings as an “observer”. You do not need to announce that role. Merely make no effort to control or conduct activities. See if the team can run with the ball on their own. If they can, you are a good coach. Their lack of need to have you exercise control is a compliment to your importance in their training and development. If your team is so smart, why do you have to set the agenda? If your team is involved in “doing it” everyday, then they have great insight into what is working, and what is not working. The team’s goal is to fix problems at the team’s level of involvement. As a manager or leader your job is to focus the team on that goal, not define it for them. If you manage six Personnel Representatives, they probably speak with 20 employees a day, each. They represent 120 daily employee inputs, or 600 weekly inputs. As their manager, how many non-management employees outside your department did you speak with today, or this week for that matter? Who really knows what needs “doing”? Being part of a team, or leading a team, is a lot more productive than sitting in an office sending voice and emails. It certainly is more effective and rediscovering that sense of team, common bonding, mission focus, is fun. That’s right, it is possible to become more effective, more productive, and more successful and still have fun. Remember when you were a kid and you joined a ball team? (Cokes were ten cents, Saturdays lasted forever, and you never-never got tired – Sorry, time warping again.) You didn’t call it work then. Why are you making it work now? Besides, you can always use the extra team tee shirts and ball caps for yard work. Have a great day recruiting!

Ken Gaffey (kengaffey@comcast.net) is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services (www.cps.ca.gov) and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE, Monster.com, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.


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