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The Team Is Everything!!

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“Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare” – The Five Dysfunctions of a team, Patrick Lencioni 

Building an effective team that despite individuals, collectively operate with synergistic results is inarguably for most business owners the biggest challenge. I recently read a brilliant book on the subject of teamwork called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. It is an easy read and worth the time spent on reading it. The first part of the book explains the model with a case study of a new CEO appointed to head a dysfunctional, non-performing executive team of a software company in Silicon Valley, called DecisionTECH, Inc. According to Lencioni, most teams fall prey to 5 pitfalls or dysfunctions that challenges effective team performance. Herewith a brief overview of the 5 dysfunctions:

  1. Absence of trust (Invulnerability) – Trust amongst team members that the intentions of all team members can be trusted. Trust is built upon knowledge, insight and empathy for one another. Team members being vulnerable without fear, willing to share on interpersonal short comings, skill deviancies, mistakes and asking for help.

  2. Fear of conflict (artificial harmony) – An absence of trust leads to a fear of conflict. Avoiding debate and open discussions or disagreement. This results in team members being ‘polite’ and an artificial consensus on decisions. In contrast, constructive conflict relates to open discussions and debate, reviewing all possible alternatives before a collective decision is made.

  3. Lack of commitment (ambiguity) – in the event of team members not trusting one another and openly contributing, individuals will then also have difficulty in committing. Commitment is easier when there is clarity on the way forward and individual buy-in of all the members of the team.

  4. Avoidance of accountability (low standards) – previous 3 dysfunctions lead to team members not keeping each other accountable to performance. In teams with high levels of trust, openly debating strategy and individual commitment, individuals will be motivated to perform in the fear of ‘letting team members down’. Positive peer pressure has always been a great motivator!

  5. Lack of common focus on results / common goal (status and ego) – Common goals or desired results of the greater team are always more important than individual results, ego’s or career ambitions.

Ultimately building a winning team in a business starts by selecting and employing the right people for the right positions. Then follows creating an environment that will support the individuals to work together over time to a synergistic unit. It is this synergistic team that will give a business a competitive advantage over competitors, more than strategy, technology or resources.

ActionCOACH coaches business owners on the importance of 6 keys in creating an ideal environment toward building a winning team. In short these are:

  1. Strong leadership – a crucial component to creating a winning team is the visionary leadership of the owner. The ability to inspire and lead the team towards ‘true north’, defining direction and a clear vision of where the owner is ‘taking the business’. This asks of a leader to have passion and a belief in the potential of the business as well as the team. Combined with responsibility for the decisions and actions of the team regardless of the outcomes of actions and strategies. Strong leadership lays the foundation of trust amongst the team and in the owner or leader.

  2. Common Goal – Clearly defined smart goals will result to a buy-in from the team as well as commitment to support and work together in achieving the goals. A true sense of ‘ we are all in together working together towards achieving a common goal and reward’. Setting clear goals gives focus, direction and momentum.

  3. Rules of the game – defining clear norms and standards for behavior within the business, called the values or culture statement. It is said that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ meaning that the best ideas, strategy or innovation will be less effective or profitable supported by the unless supported by specific rules of behavior. Values and culture within a company starts with the leader and his / her personal code of ethics in business. The rest of the team follows suit.

  4. Action plan – Start by having every person in the company understanding what their job, position and responsibility is (job descriptions). Then determine a strategy and plan to achieve defined goals and help staff understand how each and everyone contributes and plays role towards achieving these defined goals. This drives overall accountability towards individual performance and the performance of the various functions in the company, e.g. all staff equally responsible for the acquiring new clients (marketing) and servicing existing clients (customer service), etc.

  5. Support risk taking – the tolerance for risk or allowing staff to make discretionary decisions that can be seen as taking some risk, is a part of the culture of a company. Challenging team to go beyond their comfort zone or normal ‘way of doing things’ can pay off in a great way. Reference to the Japanese word, ‘Kaizen’ – the process of continuous improvement where staff and team members are encouraged to always seek better or more effective ways to better their respective output or work responsibility. If not growth, then death!

  6. 100% Participation – every team member being fully ‘present’ and actively involved in the well-being of the business, working together towards achieving the defined common goals. Ultimately this is above individual ego’s and career aspirations. The art of inclusion of all staff at all levels.

Building a winning business with a winning team is not suppose to be an easy task and can prove to be challenging in many ways. However, there are many shining examples of such winning teams and companies namely Ford, Apple, the Elon Musks of the modern world!

It is said that the true strength of the team lies in the individual and the strength of the individual is within the team…it is true a win, win strategy!

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