We keep hearing about the importance of team work in our work place. But how often do we find effective teams in our work arena? What restrains us from forming effective teams? These are burgeoning questions that perturbs us every now and then. We, humans, are highly cognitive beings with augmented intelligence quotient. But still when it comes to forming teams, somehow we fumble and mess up. It seems as if the vital traits for team building like communion, cooperation and co-habitation has simply been pushed to oblivion. We live and survive as sole entities ignoring these essential qualities refusing to embrace the essence of team spirit.
If we look at nature, we get a very contradictory picture. It is full of examples of team work, cooperation and dedication. These animals, quite inconsequential in the evolutionary chain, display startling cases of togetherness and leadership. The migration of geese is one such example. As the seasons change large flocks of geese migrate by flying thousands of kilometers to their destination. These flocks contain hundreds of individual birds, each with limited capabilities to go the distance alone, however almost all of them make it to the destination. How do they do it? The geese fly in a V formation, one bird serves as a leader to minimize wind resistance for the birds behind them. When the lead bird tires it rotates to another position so a different bird can assume the responsibility of leading the flock. If each individual bird decided to make this long journey by itself, most, if not all, would undoubtedly fail. In contrast, when all the birds work together as a flock, as a team - they reach their goal and arrive at their final destination.
Scientists have identified that when geese fly in formation, each bird flapping its wings creates uplift for the bird that follows. Together the whole flock can fly over 70 percent further than if they fly alone. This phenomenon can be considered an example of synergy, a concept closely related to teamwork. Simply put, synergy is the cooperation of more people or elements working together to produce a combined result that is greater than the sum of the results achieved separately. The word synergy is derived from the Greek "Synergos" meaning "working together". What a wonderful concept!
California's redwoods are the world's tallest trees. Some top 350 feet and are more than 2,000 years old. One might think that trees so large would have a tremendous root system reaching hundreds of feet into the earth. Not true. The redwoods have a very shallow root system, but they intertwine. The trees support and protect each other. When storms come or wind blows, the redwoods stand together. There is strength in numbers. In the same way the honey bees, the termites and the ants display wonderful traits of team work.
When people harness the power of effective teamwork and synergy within their own work teams, they too achieve substantially improved individual and team performance, higher output, greater personal satisfaction, less stress, and a safer workplace. But how do we harness this much elusive concept? What are the basic tenets for effective teams?
Google is considered to be one of the best places to work as they take the concept of team very seriously. In the year 2012 Google came up with something called "Project Aristotle" where they did a world over survey to find out the vital ingredients for effective teams. Was it the people, the managers or was it a mix of both. Around 180 teams were studied and interviewed to delve deep into the makings of a good team. Finally Google came up with nothing other than the generic fact that most of the good teams had all the team members contributing and they respected each others emotions. During this pendency of this project one Japanese middle level manager, Mr Sagaguchi, actually thought of trying out this with his team. He took his team for an outing and during the process he opened up to his team members. He was suffering from cancer something which he had not disclosed to his team so far. Slowly and reluctantly his team members also started opening up. At the end of the day his team became more cohesive and closely knit. At the heart of Sagaguchi's strategy is a concept called "Psychological Safety". It is a scenario where, as a team member, you are willing to take to interpersonal risks like opening up to your team about your personal issues. This is possible because you believe that whatever you discuss with the team stays within the team. Google went on to codify this as essential team building etiquettes. In a good team 1) all team members contribute to the conversation 2) they all respect each others emotions. Can we harness these wonderful traits in our teams, in our team members? If we can then we can truly create effective and efficient teams in our work arena.
Another great example of team work can be seen in Pixar, the company which Steve jobs bought in the year 1986. In 2002 Steve Jobs wanted to move the facility to a bigger location and many of his colleagues suggested going for a 3 or 4 storied building. But he was against it. He wanted to house the entire facility in a huge area, like a closed atrium where all the departments will be on the same floor. When asked why he wanted to do this, Steve jobs came up with a profound statement that he wanted to house the most important function of the company at the heart of the building and that function was interaction between the employees and formation of teams. Steve Jobs gave his team the creative freedom to work and form inter and intra departmental teams. He said when a person from one department walked past another from some other department something transpired, and there was an exchange of creative energy which did a world of good for work space relationships.
Are we able to foster this kind of synchronization and synergy in our work place? We can create wonderful teams in our work arena through effective communication, by giving proper feedback, by sorting out interpersonal issues and by building trust. Communication is a vital cog in team building and we need to be transparent and honest with it. Constructive feedback should be given to our team members to provide opportunities for them to improve their performance. By being consistent and honest in our communication with the team members we can build trust. And when we trust ourselves it is easy to sort out any interpersonal issues that pop up during team activities. By doing all this we can concretize our belief in ourselves and our team members and make the team more cohesive and united.
Remember, team leadership and team building go hand in hand. Successful Team Building in the workplace often translates into success for everyone. It is not difficult and does not require anyone to go out of their way or do anything extraordinary as a common man. We just need to have that positive attitude and respect for each others emotion to propitiate the spirit of team work amidst our staff.
As the popular saying goes, "Teamwork is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results."
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