‘Good team player.’ ‘Works well in a team.’ Everyone’s CV is full of how important team work is in business these days but does it really work the way we think it does?
‘Everyone line up against the wall and then the Captains will pick the greens and the reds.’
I was introduced to the concept of ‘team’ through playing sports at primary school. Football probably, but we might have played a non-lethal version of dodge-ball as well.
The ideas of team hierarchy, entry qualifications and the blame culture were already being established. The teams were led by the boys who had the best skills in the task in question – they were good at kicking the ball – but may not have been so great at motivating or indeed managing their team. In picking their side, they simply chose their mates in descending order from ‘best mate’ down until the only two kids left were the two that no one wanted. Sometimes this was such a sticking point that the teacher had to allocate their red or green armband. Oh, the shame of it.
Once the game was under way, it was pretty much every boy for themselves. No one passed the ball; there was no clear game plan but, if you made a mistake, then every other member of the team was very happy to point out your failings in the clearest possible language and bang went your chances for being picked next week.
Oh, and ‘team’ was obviously a single-sex thing. Girls playing football? Duh.
Together Everyone Achieves More.
A good few years down the track and it seems that very few aspects of business generate as many inspirational sayings as the idea of teamwork but why is that?
Like most things, there is a good and a bad side to how businesses and managers look at a team and the people within it. Sad to say, some of them confuse a team with a herd, or a flock. The motivational quotes they litter their memos with are like sheepdogs trying to keep the group together.
‘Get with the program.’ Or perhaps even, ‘Shape up or ship out.’ And definitely, ‘There is no ‘I’ in team.’
But that’s just paying lip service to the idea of ‘team’ and missing out on the benefits it can bring for a business and the people who work in that business, the people who make up that team.
Someone once told me that most businesses don’t actually want a team, they don’t want to go through the huge effort that building a strong, effective team requires. All they actually want is a bunch of people who can just about stand the thought of working together.
Sadly, I think that is sometimes true.
A couple of years ago we started posting tweets from SPATEX with the hashtag TeamGC and I thought, do you know what, we really are. It’s something we’re proud of and benefits not just our customers but ourselves as well.
We are regularly giving out Long Service awards to our staff; people like working here. We don’t communicate internally by email; if you want to ask someone something, walk around to their desk and ask them. We share a team spirit; a much loved team member died of cancer a few years ago; we still have ‘Pink Friday’ to remember them.
And we respect each other. Warehouse staff and technical support, sales team, finance and office management. We all have different skills and it’s the combination of those skills that makes us what we are. There are 33 ‘I’s in this team and that’s a good thing.
‘And they’re coming out onto the pitch now…’
You can’t talk about ‘team’ for long before football and rugby, hockey and whatever else pitch up.
Perhaps the sporting analogy is so strong because watching a team game brings all the principles of teamwork together and shows them in a dynamic and graphic way.
You can see that people work together and support each other if any one member gets into trouble. You can see that they have a common goal that they all clearly understand and have agreed to work towards. You can see them communicate with each other and you can see the captain is on the pitch leading his or her team, not managing it.
And you can see that they are all individuals. They are all ‘I’s, people with their own unique skills and abilities. You need strong individuals to make a strong team and that, I think, is a point that is often missed.