30 Aug 2016 18:14 IST

The true meaning of team work

Improving quality of day-to-day work is a sure way of building good teams

The annual company event took place near the beaches of Goa. The MD, freshly minted MBAs and techies were all there.

The programme was chock-a-block with the inevitable strategy sessions and reviews. When the meet was being planned, the MD had stressed on the need for better teamwork. Everybody agreed. On cue, the HR organised many team building sessions — some outdoors, others indoors. There were adventure team games. Computer-based strategy games were also conducted.

The employees’ sore muscles and tired minds would find solace in the evening beach parties. Professional entertainers and employees’ music groups performed, much to everyone’s delight. Smiles and bonhomie filled the air. In the concluding session, the MD said he was impressed with the electric atmosphere. The whopping bill seemed justified as people returned home, happily exhausted.

First day at work

The smiles were still there, albeit a bit tired. But that was understandable, given the amount of work and partying that went on for two and a half days. People started picking up pieces of work — overflowing inboxes could still be ignored.

Day two at work

Overflowing inboxes could no longer be ignored. Meetings were lined up on both sides of lunch; even a quiet cup of tea was out of the question. An argument broke out between marketing and operations. Charges were traded. Teamwork within those departments, however, was intact.

Frowns replaced smiles.

Soon, everything about the ‘team building outing’ — except the Goa gossip —was forgotten. The MD was having lunch with heads of marketing and operations. HR head was there as well.

Over desserts, the MD asked, “How is the teamwork these days?”

The marketing head said, “It’s great! I just hope we get our deliveries on time”. The operations chief said, “It is definitely better. But the hard work our boys put in isn’t fully appreciated”. The HR head quipped, “We need this (Goa) at regular intervals to keep up the team spirit”.

So why don’t such expensive interventions improve teamwork?

We all know that openness, fairness, co-operation, communication, empathy, emotional intelligence, engagement, spirit of innovation, adventure and such soft aspects help build teams. But they won’t go far enough because teamwork is implicitly defined as “If I miss something, my team-mates should accommodate it”.

Implicit definitions of teamwork (as we see it)

1) Others should accept and correct my shortcomings.

2) Bonding only over non-work related subjects.

3) Avoiding professional disagreements and making compromises that hurt quality in the long run.

4) Thinking ‘others should stand in for me if I am not free’.

5) And assuming ‘my mistakes should be the collective responsibility of all team members’.

At the outset, no one will agree with the above. But truth is, we do have such implicit expectations. That’s why the word ‘teamwork’ has a negative connotation. Yet, as a team leader, there is nothing more frustrating than seeing your people quibble, argue, and backbite over petty issues.

Building better teams

So how can you make it better? What you should definitely avoid is giving a pep talk on the subject. Haven’t you yourself been bored to death with such talk?

Instead, here are a few things to check for. Check if:

~ Your team’s goals are clear, measurable and achievable with some stretch.

~ If your plan is intelligently drawn with identified risks.

~ If your team members have contributed to making the plan, which can allow handling surprises.

~ If individuals understand what they must do and how that fits into their colleagues’ activity plan.

~ If your people’s attitudes and abilities match the work demands.

If the above things aren’t done, day-to-day work can cause irritation, frustration, anger and bad trade-offs, leading to blame games. Interventions for improving soft skills won’t work in such situations.

No amount of team building activities planned can help unless such issues are resolved. Improving the quality of everyday work is a sure way of building good teams.