Running a Great Team
By Keira Jones Harper
Fuel drives the car on a day to day basis (for this metaphor fuel could be pay), but regular servicing and maintenance is still essential.
I am very fond of this metaphor of team working and I think it is a powerful one. I am therefore surprised and disappointed that when budgets are tight one of the first things to go is team development. Investment in activities for team building is seen as a luxury to put to one side until times are better.
No! Just at the time when you most need the team, or engine, to be firing on all cylinders, people decide to forgo what is in effect essential routine maintenance.
No one services a car because they want to. We do it because we know that the car will perform more efficiently, be more reliable and get us where we want to go. If we decide that we won’t spend the money on a routine service then we know that eventually the engine will seize up depending on how much we have loved it before, how hard we drive it and how lucky we are.
Effective teams are the same. People seem to be expecting a lot of goodwill from their teams at the moment possibly on the basis that the economic environment is so tough that their people won’t go anywhere else. But that doesn’t mean they are properly working as a team.
There are predominantly two types of teams at the moment: The Survivor Team and the Circled Wagon Team.
The Survivor Team has been through the mill. It may have lost members or had a lot of extra responsibilities, or been restructured – most likely all three. The team members could be at various stages along a personal change curve from exhilaration to expiration. They could be freewheeling or about to seize up.
The Circled Wagon team has remained intact, but is very cautious and waiting for the attack to go away. They don’t feel safe, want to be somewhere else but can’t break the defenses. The wheels haven’t come off yet, but no one is going anywhere.
Budget controllers worry that spending money on perceived non-essentials such as team events could send out the wrong message even if there is a possible underlying benefit. So Managers need to treat this like any other investment and provide evidence of the payback. Try a two pronged approach:
- Use the engine metaphor and work out all the things that are likely to happen in a ‘do nothing’ option (which should always be one of the options in the business case). Imagine the consequences as team cohesion and motivation breaks down.
Estimate the cost of things that will probably arise like: increased absence, reduced performance, increased errors and rework, increased conflict, handling customer complaints, handling operational consequences, or stopping production altogether.
- Propose team activities that clearly address the current team challenges that the team is facing so that the business case can show instant results rather than just the avoidance of risk.
Incorporate some longer term benefit such as individual and team profiles and a long term action plan. Use existing team meetings if necessary. Prepare the ground for the better times round the corner. Simple sessions designed properly can be powerful and cost effective.
Keep the engine turning sweetly and keep that car on the road!
Sorbus Sussex helps business leaders manage change in a positive atmosphere through executive coaching, team building and project management based on 25 years of hands on operational experience. www.sorbusiness.co.uk