True teamwork is on the verge of extinction in business and is being replaced with a far more costly and less efficient model of group work.  Over time, teamwork has come to mean overwork and rework.  Sloppy management practices have bastardized the meaning and application of a simple concept.

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Here’s what I mean.  Today, if you don’t cover for the other guy, you are labeled as not being a team player.  In current parlance, teamwork has been replaced with group work where “team players” pick up the slack, fulfill roles of other team members, and get the job done.  On the face of it, this sounds pretty good.  After all, what’s wrong with achieving results?

Nothing is wrong with results.  But businesses are charged with profitability and only teamwork will get you to that destination.  Analogies from two sports help illustrate the distinction.  In American soccer we don’t expect the goal-keeper to score goals but to prevent goals.  In basketball the center is almost never relied upon to be the ball-handler.  That doesn’t mean that midfielders don’t prevent goals or that centers don’t touch the basketball, just that they do so only in certain exceptional circumstances.  The #1 characteristic of great teams is that they share objectives but only occasionally share roles.

Businesses get off track when they overlook this distinction.  In group work, “everyone is responsible for everything.”  But the corollary is also true – “no one is accountable for anything.”  To ensure the survival of teamwork and improve profitability, three changes must occur.

  1. Set a Clear Goal – Define what the shared objective is. What singular goal must the organization attain?
  2. Outline Individual Roles – Help people see what they do and how it impacts the success of the team.
  3. Hold People Accountable – If people aren’t accountable for results, then what precisely are they doing?  Are they helping your organization, or just draining profitability?

Only after these three things are done should we consider having people ‘cover for each other’… and even then it should be the exception, not the rule.  (If it is a rule, then your company is bloated and is sacrificing margins.)

The pivot point is that effective teamwork occurs only when people successfully play their role, not all roles.  Next time you observe a team in disarray, examine whether it has fallen into the trap of expecting people to cover for one another as the rule or if team members fail to pull their weight and do their jobs.

Which quote below better characterizes teamwork in your business?

Teamwork is essential – it allows you to blame someone else. ~Unknown

No one can whistle a symphony.  It takes a whole orchestra to play it.  ~H.E. Luccock

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