You hear the words team, teamwork or team building at the office, some of us more than others. But do authentic teams really exist? Or are you a part of a disconnected group of people who happen to work for the same employer, all with different agendas? Sometimes employees are lured into thinking a team exists because the word is used so often. Unfortunately, they end up feeling confused or betrayed because they experience an isolated feeling when collaboration is anticipated, or when relationships they thought were healthy turn out to be one sided or exploitative. They eventually realize they are a member of a group of people working together who are putting their personal agendas first, supporting each other only when it serves them.

At some organizations the word teamwork is embedded in the corporate values and performance management process then supported by internal and external courses. Leaders and coworkers support the elaborate smokescreen by espousing teamwork as a value. Building a culture characterized by collaboration starts at the top. It doesn’t start with merely articulating the right words; it starts with leaders who take the time to become aware of their subtle and overt behaviours that create division and conscientiously transform them.

Two of the decisions leaders make that inhibit teamwork are: promoting persons who are ruthless or employees who are technically competent with deficient interpersonal skills. Promotion of these types of employees automatically lowers morale and the possibility for teamwork because employees feel they are being used or attacked. These types of decisions made by hiring managers feed entitlement behaviours in the workplace because when employees feel unfairly treated the perceived inequitable treatment creates the foundation for the belief that they have an extended list of rights.

Another type of leader who creates a mutation of the team experience is the manager who is lacks all the basic skills to perform in their senior role so they use strong performers in order to create the appearance of satisfactory performance. These managers initially create the facade of teamwork where unsuspecting employees believe they are part of a mutual collaboration but these employees are actually in a one-sided working relationship, performing in two roles. The employee in the supportive role sometimes realizes they are being used when they are overlooked for a promotion because the manager can’t release them.

In some work environments members of a group attack each other either openly or surreptitiously. Their intent is to expose each other’s shortcomings, sometimes camouflaging the attack as a legitimate complaint in an effort to make themselves look better. Sometimes it works because the decision maker is not a critical thinker but we all know that when a person has to make another person seem incompetent in order to profile their value it says a whole lot about the deficiencies in their self esteem.

The Team Effect:

Creating the team effect takes much more than a team building activity or a social event. When employers sponsor staff socials to address team issues, some employees show up and enjoy themselves, others choose not to attend because they do not want to spend a minute of their personal time with their coworkers. No matter how successful the social interaction appears to be, an event is an external attempt to transform an internal issue of not feeling valued or respected.

The team effect addresses these internal issues and exists when:

  • Team members trust each other and are willing to be vulnerable because mistakes are treated as learning opportunities and not the end of the world.
  • Members of the team may not like each other but they put aside the propensity for avoidance or dysfunctional confrontation refusing to allow pettiness or anger to infiltrate their interactions. They put the team agenda before their personal proclivities.
  • There are office politics, but relationships are managed in a way that the tendencies toward competition do not overwhelm the need for collaboration.
  • Leaders understand that creating and sustaining healthy team dynamics takes time and sustained behavioural modification. These leaders demonstrate the right behaviours, select the right people for teams and reward desired collaborative behaviours. While they do recognize individual achievement, it does not override the achievement of the team.
  • Members of the team know how to provide constructive feedback to their colleagues, no matter their level, balancing the positive and negative, inspiring commitment, mutual respect and creativity. They understand what to say, how to deliver the message and the importance of right timing.
  • Members are transparent with open agendas and their interactions are aligned with their open agendas.
  • Emotion happens and so does self management.
  • Members experience a sense of connectedness and real support. They sense, care about, empathize with and value each other.

Bill Bradley, a retired NBA player and US Senator, once summarized teamwork saying, “Respect your fellow human beings, treat them fairly, disagree with them honestly, enjoy their friendship, explore your thoughts about one another candidly, work together for a common goal and help one another achieve it.” By following his advice, you will address employees’ needs to feel valued and respected by setting the stage for the team effect.

Author's Bio: 

Yvette Bethel is CEO of Organizational Soul, a consulting company dedicated to transforming cultures through building collective emotional intelligence skills. She is also author of the emotional Intelligence books E.Q. Librium and Getting to E.Q. Librium.

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