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Why Team’s Don’t Work

It starts with the Declaration of Independence, moves to the Protestant work ethic, and is followed by Hoover’s “rugged individualism.” Let’s not forget class ranking, top sales reps, and all of the other things that focus on individual effort, achievement, and an overall emphasis on independence rather than interdependence. It helps me understand the statement “There is no ‘I’ in ‘team'” in a much different way. In fact, I would say it another way: “There is no ‘I’ in ‘team’ because all there is, is ‘I.'”

For the record, I am not a bleeding heart softee, nor am I in favor of the ‘everyone gets a trophy’ mentality. I am in favor, however, of recognizing that we have been kidding ourselves if we think we have conditioned or trained people to work effectively as a team. I actually see myself as part of the problem; I love to win, and I pride myself on being better at what I do than anyone else who does a similar thing. My favorite movie line comes from “The Natural,” in which Robert Redford’s fictional baseball character Roy Hobbs wants to be known as “the best that ever was.”

But if we really are serious about teams and collaboration, we must begin taking a new look at everything we do, what gets evaluated and how we get recognized and compensated. Deming once said, “What gets measured gets done,” and Stephen Covey stated, “All organizations are perfectly aligned to be getting the results they are getting.”

The call to action is to end our collective, superficial, and token efforts to get buy-in and to begin finding real and meaningful ways to engage people in contributing to the collective organizational success. We must be more transparent with our communications, widening the circle of inclusion earlier in the process of change rather than later. We also must be clear on what warrants a team versus an individual approach to getting the work done.

One technique that most organizations would immensely benefit from when using teams and leading change is the hourglass approach. The shape of an hourglass – large on the top, narrow in the middle, and then large again at the bottom – is a wonderful image for guiding the use of teams and leading change. Include as much of the entire system as you can at the outset, sharing a compelling “why” for the change. Get maximum participation by collecting ideas and identifying assumptions, barriers, and other important factors. Then narrow the group to a mix that is manageable in size to shape decisions from the information collected. Once the direction and decisions are made, once again enlarge the group for continued participation as to how these changes will be implemented throughout the system.

There may be no “I” in “team,” but there is “our” in “hourglass”!

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