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The Value of Teamwork

Aug 17, 2007
Have you ever been part of a highly functioning team? One where your unique talents were valued, and where you were highly energized every time you were with this team? If you have been so fortunate, you are probably in the minority.

Many of us have had negative experiences being on a team. In fact, often the term "team" is used to describe any group of people assembled in proximity to each other. So, what is a team? There are numerous definitions out there, but here is a particularly good one: "A team is a group of people who go out of their way to make each other look good."

A team is made up of a small number of people (seven to nine is ideal) who have a common goal, who are accountable to each other and who have a diverse set of talents and skills.

Most of us have probably been involved in some form of "teambuilding" activity over the years. Although they can be fun for an afternoon, how do you create any lasting value? And why should you create a culture that values teamwork anyway? Isn't it just faster and more efficient to tell people what needs to get done?

In today's business climate, it is difficult to carve out extra time for anything outside of your long list of urgent priorities. However, if you have ever experienced the synergy of a well-functioning team, you understand the return on investment this type of team can deliver.


Here are some of the benefits:

* Getting everyone on the same page. When people understand what the goal or objective is, they can get on with the tasks that need to be done and not waste time in confusion and unnecessary work because of unclear expectations.

* Creating better outcomes. There is no question that when people bring their unique talents to a supportive environment, where trust and respect are the norm, the end result is a better product.

* Providing value to your customers. When a team works well together, customers can feel it. There is a sense of good will, and a desire to work with people who are pleasant and enjoy what they do. Peter Block once said, "You can't treat a customer any better than you treat each other." You may think you are hiding your "dirty linen", but your customers know whether or not you are working as a team.

* Enjoying your work. High-functioning teams bring a sense of energy to their work. Healthy conflict and disagreement are welcomed, and feedback is given in the spirit of continuous improvement. Turnover decreases, morale improves and people have more fun.


So, what do you need to do to start building better teams? And how to you get buy-in?

Here are a few suggestions:

* Start at the top. It is imperative to have senior leadership support for any team-building initiative.

* Communicate regularly. Share information often and in different formats with the team.

* Explain the reason for the team initiative. People need to understand how they fit into the bigger picture, as well as the WIIFM factor (What's In It For Me?)

* Give the team as much control as possible. When a team has a sense of ownership, team members are eager to take responsibility and become accountable.

* Be an encourager. Seek ways to recognize the team's progress, clear roadblocks for them, and create internal champions who appreciate the value of their work.

Team building is not a one-time event. It is an attitude, a philosophy of how to treat people. It is a way of being. You have to keep your team-building efforts front and center.

As a leader, you must continue to beat the drum for building teams. You must encourage growth, insight and healthy disagreement. Another great quote about teams says: "We are most effective as a team when we compliment each other without embarrassment and disagree without fear." Model this behavior and your teams will be more successful.

You also must champion diversity and different work styles, which will result in a better product for your customers. Help team members understand the "natural role" they each play on the team. And, teach them a process for handing off the baton to the right person at the right time. This can help speed up product development, provide smoother rollouts and installations and utilize the unique talents each member brings to the team.

Everyone wins when teams work well: the employee, the company and the customer. As Margaret Mead so eloquently said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
About the Author
Paula Switzer of Switzer Resource Group helps leaders develop Bright Ideas for Brilliant Results, which result in increased sales, improved customer service, enhanced teamwork and effective leadership. Visit her websites at Training Resources or Relational Leadership.
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