Successful teams remain united no matter what the challenge, but what’s the secret to developing them?

Those of us who have run businesses know there are principles of success common to all. Of all the success factors, most of which are widely documented in business books, journals and blogs, two stand out as critical to success, both related to the concept of “teams”.

The first principle is to do with how organisations structure their operations: “One Team” versus a number of functional (dysfunctional?) teams. While functional divisions (silos) may seem efficient, what is lost through a splintered approach is clear to those on the outside (and to many on the inside.) When people lose sight of the big picture, and what is happening upstream and downstream from what they do, value is lost. Miscommunications occur, departments work at cross purposes, managers become territorial and staff become alienated and self-serving. This plays into the hands of the competition. It’s like working for the competition while on this company’s payroll.

The advantages of a “one team” approach are now well-documented, but I recall my surprise at first reading about an emphasis on teamwork in the early 90s. (D Quinn Mills in “The New Competitors”) Who would argue the connection between teamwork and success these days?

Unless people are led to put “we” before “me” and until structures and protocols encourage a “one team” approach and sanction an insular approach, the call for teamwork will remain a platitude.

Another second lesson from teams is competitiveness. Top teams know who the “opposition” is, and who and what it isn’t. Opposition fuels a team’s relentless pursuit of continuous improvement:

“A characteristic critical to world class teams is “divine discontent”. After what seems an outstanding performance they appear ill-at-ease… highly analytical and self-critical. They feel there is always more that could have been done, mistakes that could have been eliminated, and opportunities that could have been taken… forever searching for the tiniest possible increment of improvement.”

David Kirk – the first All Black Captain to win the William Webb Ellis Trophy.

The point here is “tiniest increment”. The sort of thing that is visible to the person doing the job, if they are so compelled. Not the sort of thing that by itself makes a difference to the bottom line but when added to all the other minutiae, can mean the difference between profit and loss. If the search for incremental improvement is a daily compulsion for everyone, these small adjustments add up to competitiveness and commercial relevance.

I recall the words of Sir Peter Blake: We chase a second of speed every time we are out on the water. One second. Tiniest increment. The attitude behind these improvements is one that values change; that assumes leadership is a state of mind not a title; that puts the team above the individual.

Both businesses and sport teams are social systems and they both have opposition. Whether the opposition is another team competing for points (or customers) or any obstacles making success a challenge, the winning team successfully navigates obstacles and remains united no matter what the challenge. As the saying goes: success is not due to wind direction but the way you set your sails.

Without the protocols and systems in place to make this happen, change is left to chance. Chance is not what business needs. No successful team deliberately leaves success (a strong bottom line) to chance. No successful team leaves it up to others to determine the direction of change. Successful teams deliberately and consistently change in ways that ensure ongoing success, and are prepared to make whatever changes are needed to keep winning. They can only know what to change by constant self-scrutiny and using a regime of timeouts to plan, review and improve.

Without these disciplines of self-scrutiny and improvement planning, organisations are more likely to be chaotic than competitive.

Cherri Holland HumanROI Partner

Copyright © Human ROI