“One great team can transform an entire organization” these starting lines from Adrian Gostuk and Chester Elton book The Orange Revolution lays so much emphasis and power on what a great team can do to an organization.
But what really goes into building a great team which ultimately results in building a great company?
While truly, there are no silver bullets or short cuts in achieving something so enduring and tough, there are three things that perhaps lay the foundation of building a great team. In no particular order of priority, they would be:
Building a team – is all about people, hence the quality of people has to be one of the most critical ingredients. There is a famous anecdote which is credited to Michael Jordan. When his coach told him that there is no “I” in “TEAM” – he famously said, “Yes, but there is a “I” in “WIN”. This did not mean he was not a team player. What he rather meant was that the quality of every single person in a team, makes a big difference to the team.
The same thought was reflected by Jim Collins in his path breaking book, “Good to Great” – where, basis an extensive 5 year research he concluded that the first step in taking a company from Good to Great is in deciding – “First Who, Then What”. What he meant was to start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And then stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.
Once we have the right people on the bus, comes the job of aligning everyone in the same direction. The actions of every person in a team, is a manifestation of their perceptions, beliefs and experiences. So getting the mental models of people aligned towards the same goals and beliefs – and getting them passionate about it, builds great power in a team.
Sharing the same belief does not however mean that we should have people who are mirror images of each other. In fact the more diverse the team, the more creative and innovative it would be.What it does mean though is to get everyone on the team to passionately believe in the teams’ mission and vision. For ex. “Delivering an outstanding customer experience” – can be a rallying cry around which a whole team aligns itself wholeheartedly. Each person could interpret it slightly differently, but the best part is whatever would be done it would ultimately result in fulfilling the higher purpose of the team.
If people are the skeleton of a team then, values are like the blood and muscle structurethat holds the whole structure together. Values are nothing but stable, long lasting beliefs about what is important. It helps to differentiate right from wrong and good from bad with respect to the team. Values are like a glue which helps in binding the team towards the team goal and mission. Values should not be just mere statements but it should reflect in the manner in which the team acts or reacts to a situation, problem , issues or celebration.
What do core values really mean in an organizational context? There is a wonderful speech by Anand Mahindra that uses the analogy of a child’s painting to explain this lucidly. You can watch it here: http://www.mahindra.com/News/Media-Library/AV-1295013390
As Kouzes and Posner, in their path breaking book – The Leadership Challenge say, “Values empower. We are much more in control of our own lives when we’re clear about out personal values. Values also motivate. They keep us focused on why we’re doing what we’re doing and the ends toward which we’re striving”.
But the most compelling argument for shared values in a team come from a four year study of 150+ firms, carried out by John Kotter of Harvard Business School and his colleague John Heskett. Their study revealed that in firms with a strong culture based on shared values (as against those that did not):
What great teams do very well then, is to thrash out what the shared values for the team are – and to hold each other responsible to live it up on a daily basis.
Culture of a team is like its DNA. Culture is the basic shared assumptions, values and belief that define what is important and unimportant for a team. Culture like DNA is invisible to the naked eyes, but are powerful templates that shape what happens in the team and the department.
Many books like “Good to Great”, “Tribal Leadership,” Delivering Happiness – Zappos.com” talk about how it is a the great culture that gives the advantage to the team and then ultimately to the organization. Everything a company or a team has like skill, know-how etccan be copied, but what cannot be imitated is the culture. Hence what great teams focus on is to encourage and have a strong, positive culture.
It’s the people, values and a great culture that first starts with making a good team and ultimately results in making a great organization. A team whether they exhibit a great value or a culture can be deciphered through observable symbols and signs of the team such as the way a visitor to the team is greeted, how often senior executives interact with subordinates, how people communicate with each other and the language used by the team members.
The factors that help in strengthening culture are:
Along with selecting people with compatible values, the team should maintain strong culture by effective socializing of the new hires. By communicating the company’s dominant values, new hires can internalize these values quickly and deeply.
As it is rightly said, “The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture.If you do not manage culture, it manages you, and you may not even be aware of the extent to which this is happening.” Edgar Schein, professor MIT Sloan School of Management
Building a great team is clearly not an easy task, but with the right intent and actions, teams can definitely get to the Promised Land. What has been your experience? Do share with us.