Team Work for Your Work Team

Monday July 18, 2016 comments

“Teamwork: Cooperative or coordinated effort on the part of a group of persons acting together as a team or in the interests of a common cause.” That’s what says. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m sitting in a gym at Wheat Ridge High School on a July Saturday afternoon, waiting to watch my teenage daughter and her basketball team play the first of five games in a weekend summer tournament. I’m not complaining. I love being my kids’ dad and I love being in the stands to support them… the loudest one in the stands to support them.

The score on the boy’s game just ahead of the one I’m here for, is 57-22. Pretty lopsided. I learn a lot about teamwork from watching a high-performing team. I probably learn more from those who don’t perform as well. And I’m a sucker for the underdog. I keep finding myself cheering when the lower scoring team does something amazing. I really want them to do better.

Both reams have pretty good teamwork. There could be a difference in skills and background. My guess though, is that there’s a difference in the amount of team work the two do. And by that I mean skills training, practice, drills, workouts.

The same is true in the workplace. Some organizations just coast, expecting everyone to work together like the proverbial well-oiled machine. Doesn’t happen. Some spend inordinate resources of time and money attempting team-building activities that are supposed to make everyone feel good and happy. That lasts about as long as food does at a team dinner for a high school sports team.

People strategies that work in sports are pretty similar to the ones that work in the workplace. The following are practices that can help any work team be more effective, while on the job:

  1. Appreciate. If all a coach does is yell at a sports team for all they are doing wrong, “we suck” will be fully entrenched in the athletes’ heads. The coach who appreciates, motivates. In the workplace, you can create a culture where gratitude thrives, and you can train everyone to practice it. Why? Because it reduces complaining, makes people feel they are valued; and changes the discussion from one of blame to one of honor. Appreciation typically shows up as one of the top 3 best motivators on the job. Start top-down but don’t stop there. Encourage peers to appreciate each other. There are numerous ways; many are free. When everyone gets good at appreciating each other internally, they’ll be better at appreciating your customers. You want that.
  2. Listen. The best coaches of athletic teams listen to their team – their concerns, their confidence, their goals, their dreams. It works the same way in work teams. People are going to talk anyway; be a part of the conversation. You could allow an environment that fosters passive-aggressive behaviors and a potentially adversarial relationship between you and your team. Or instead, you could harness the power of a frustration or hassle by training your team to think solution-oriented. Encourage direct conversations, particularly about things that aren’t working. Engage people in a position to know from a perspective that you cannot. If you listen, you will often hear frustrations that are really low hanging fruit. Resolve the issues that cause the frustration and not only does the frustration go away, but morale will improve. So will your bottom line.
  3. Include. Can you imagine a sports teams where the athletes have no voice in decisions that impact them? Everyone knows who the coach is, who makes the big decisions, and who is in charge. But the players are expected to make decisions on the field or court in the best interest of the team – in real time. It doesn’t work for athletes to expect the coach to call everything from the bench; the athletes have to think on their feet and make the right decisions. Create and practice that in your workplace. You want to increase sales? Practice involving everyone in brainstorming and implementing new strategies. Turn the whole place into a sales organization. You want to reduce expenses? Who better to include than the people closest to the expenses? You want to think through new PR or marketing strategies? Why not engage people on your team who then feel like they have a vested interest in the image of the organization? You will ALWAYS get the best results when your team behaves like one.

In a sports team, almost all of the practice is done separate from the game. The challenge in the workplace is that there is very little time devoted to “practice” away from “work;” almost all of the practice has to take place while working. Adds a new meaning to the phrase “On-the-Job Training.” Role playing at retreats and meetings is useful, but you have to take advantage of every situation at work to appreciate, listen, and include. Get your whole team to practice those 3 things – right in the middle of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats - and your team can win.


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