When Teams Become Dangerous

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Teamwork.  Often we have the need and desire to improve team relationships.  We have been told that we need to work well with teams.  We, as managers, must promote a team environment.  Leadership training focuses on working as a team.  If teams are so great, and we have teams everywhere (how many “teams” are you a member of?) then why do we still have issues creeping up on us?  Why do we still have to play politics?

Remember the saying, “There is no ‘I’ in team.”  That concept is flawed because it comes from an idealistic premise that human beings can let go of their individuality.  Well, that is a difficult thing to accomplish.  In today’s culture we are celebrating individuality and simultaneously asking our teams to let it go.  

We have created turf wars in modern business.  We have pushed ownership to the point of possessiveness.  We sit in meetings and argue over jobs.  We are back on the playground, staking claim on the jungle gym.  We fight for resources, squabble over spending, and plot plans for retribution.  Welcome to teamwork.

Some might argue that this is not teamwork, but I say it is.  It is teamwork as we have defined it over the years.  It is the team member as conditioned by his circumstances.  Most people like to be part of a team, to belong to something.  The question is what are the teams to which they belong?

It is difficult to change the way we think.  It takes time, patience and coaching.  It is part of the evolution of each of us as we mature and grow.  But what I am proposing is not a change in thinking, but a change in definition of the boundaries.  What should make a team and how do we create incentives that are not contrary to that definition?

The team should be defined as “the smallest group possible whose goals do not conflict with the goals of any other group.”  The key to this definition is the set of goals.  This is all about creating the right KPIs.  Coupling personal objectives with team objectives is the only way to create a win-win mentality.

Start from the top down when setting metrics and goals.  Personal goals should correspond to team goals.  The only personal goals that are outside of those team goals would be development goals for the individual (i.e. complete supervisor conflict management training before October 2nd).  If you can’t create a KPI for a group that doesn’t conflict with the KPI of a peer group, you need to think more critically or simply hold to the higher-level KPI.  Share successes of the team with the whole organization whenever possible.  This will help to build camaraderie and will motivate teams to help one another on achieving their collective goals.

Remember, a few good metrics is better than a huge list.  I have seen companies with an entire matrix of Red/Yellow/Green scorecards that people simply can’t keep up with.  Keep your team focused and good things will happen.  Manage the extremes by exception and create solid game plans with your teams to see step change improvements.


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