Teamwork enacted: 3 Lessons I learned when I moved into a new team

5 years ago, my wife and I picked up and moved cross-country with a 6 week-old baby. We did so without a job secured on my end, but a stipend and graduate program for her. I left an organizational setting in which I was the senior staff member for the organization, based upon function and time. After bouncing around for a few months with little to nothing showing for myself, I found a home in an amazing organization.

While I had a lot of head knowledge of in regard to teamwork and had been on my share of sports teams over the year, it was this setting that taught me the true value of teamwork and collaboration in an organization.

Without going into great detail, it was on this team that I recognized the true functional blessing of the team. Following are the three primary lessons I learned.

First, a team works when people share a vision, that they are able to have a “say” in.  When people feel like they have a part in the vision they will work hard and try to be valuable to the team (and organization) – its just that easy!

Second, a team works when people share core values that serve to move the team. Contrary to a potential for group-think, when people share a core set of values that undergird the team (and the organization) they are able to work together with a shared foundation.

Third, a team works when the team members bring various talents and strengths to the table. When people bring differing experiences, insights, and functions to a team, it frees people up to live in their strengths rather than try to be all things.

So, what if you find yourself in a team where these three pieces are missing? Start out by asking questions. Find out if the team is willing to take a step back and redefine the purpose, values, and function. If not – RUN!

Things are happening!

We are in the process of growing the impact here at teamworkdoc! Yesterday we went live with our first article in the White Pages section of the site. Today our connect page went live, with other ways to connect to the teamwork family through Twitter and our new Facebook page. 

Come check out the new things that are happening and join the teamwork revolution! 

Teamwork Required: Expanding the Focus

Here at teamworkdoc.com, this has largely been a one-man show. How awkward, right? A website devoted to teamwork being run by a single individual. That is changing. Starting yesterday. Yesterday, the rollout for the change began – less of just me, more of us!

This website is all about how people work – together! The intention is to look at a part of the world that is often overlooked in our “me-centric” society and to shine the light on the strengths, shortcomings, and opportunities for the road ahead.

In order to accomplish this, new articles will be showing up targeting teamwork through the lens of sports, education, parenting, culture, military service, and a host of other avenues.

Again, this is about the “us” being more than the “me”. If you have suggestions or would like to participate as a guest writer, please contact me at todd@teamworkdoc.com.

Stay tuned as things grow!

Stop the Fighting. Start Collaborating!

Here in my current home state of Virginia, the primary elections are taking place today. For that reason, I thought it quite fitting to think about the failure of teamwork and collaboration that is occurring in the political realm today (uplifting isn’t it?).

In a piece posted on the Huffington Post written during the most recent government shutdown (October 2013), Robert C. Crosby makes the following statement, “[I]n order to succeed in today’s world there is a new skill needed. It is proving true in every sector of society, financial, educational, military and ecclesial. With sharpened skills of collaboration, you and your organization will be at a significant advantage. Without it, you will be limited. Ironically, at present, the 600 or so people we have elected to lead us in Washington are proving sorely deficient in what should be a primary characteristic of statesmen. Is there anyone left in Washington who knows how to or is willing to …Collaborate?” As a teamwork researcher and organizational consultant I very much appreciate this scathing rebuke. As a former political worker, I am embarrassed.

In the spirit of my proposition for increased collaboration, I have asked one of my dearest friends in the world and I man I often clash with over ideas, Rob Abb to join me in today’s post. Rob is a 2009 graduate of the political science program at the University of Michigan, a 2012 graduate of the Juris Doctorate program at Wake Forest University, and currently serves as an associate for a law firm in Detroit, MI. Rob is in many ways my younger brother and we share a passion for many topics, though admittedly we disagree on perspectives. We, however, have found the ability to have discussion and even find middle ground without spewing vitriol towards each other.

(Todd) So when it comes to the topic of collaboration, the situation is quite bleak. We have created a political landscape today in which fighting is the only answer. Political districts are gerrymandered so as to create safe seats, and as a result the need for conversation between ideologies seems to be diminished. We see politicians whose “war chests” are so big that they no longer answer to common sense, but only protect their personal interests. Our pundits also feed the “beast” as they hammer at anything that smacks of going against their status quo, as doing so drives up their ratings.

Folks, can we help stop this? Can we please talk to real people who have differing perspectives than ours, and do so calmly? Can we educate ourselves on ideas that don’t fit our own political framework? Can we stop demonizing the opposition? Could we actually seek to elect people who want to work for a more collaborative environment in politics and have proven themselves reliable in this regard? And frankly can we move to squash the power of the political parties and special interest groups in playing kingmakers through their monetary gifts, political favors, and advertising agendas and just let real people lead in collaboration?

I for one believe that it is possible for collaboration to return to politics (even within parties it seems rare anymore). I believe it starts with us turning down the volume on our TVs, radios, and internet sites when they demonize anything that doesn’t fit their agenda. Let’s return to the public square. Let’s encourage discourse (rather than squashing it). Please. It isn’t too late!

(Rob) First, let me start off by saying that I actually agree with most of what you just said. Our current political system is broken.  Our elected leaders no longer have any real incentive to put aside ideological differences, communicate and work together. In fact, for many of them, choosing to walk across the aisle and work with someone or support an idea from the “other party” is about the most dangerous thing they can do, from a political standpoint. Most House Republicans, for example, cannot even consider supporting anything with the President’s name on it. And if you think I’m exaggerating, go back and look up what many in the party said about Gov. Christie when he praised the President’s efforts and worked with him on something as controversial as disaster relief. You did not see the same reaction from Democrats about the President working with a Republican governor.

Where Todd and I really disagree is as to who is responsible for this mess.  While there is considerable blame to go around, it should not be equally divided.  The old “they’re all crooks” attack is far too simplistic. That is to say, although both parties are rife with corruption and incompetence, the policies and laws that created the systemic failures of our electoral system are not bipartisan. While Democrats (starting mostly with Bill Clinton) have learned how to play by the new rules and exploit our election laws as well as (and sometimes better than) Republicans, the underlying causes of systemic failure in our electoral system that have reduced our elections to simple ebay-eque bidding wars, continue to be advocated for and championed by conservatives and conservative ideology.

In the U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, over vehement objection from the 4 liberal justices, the 5 conservative members of the Court struck down some of the few remaining bastions of campaign finance regulation left in this country. The conservative majority continues to espouse the faulty belief that “money = speech” and uses that as justification to strike down campaign finance regulations every time.  In fact, ultraconservative Justice Thomas has gone so far as to even oppose the disclosure requirements – yes, that’s right, not only does he want to remove any and all contribution and spending limits, but he also wants to make sure that we have no idea who is donating the money.

It is also important to note that the concern here is not merely theoretical. The effects of these Court decisions are very real. For example, in the 2012 presidential campaign, outside groups not connected to any one candidate spent more than $1 billion, which nearly equaled the sum spent by outside groups in the previous 12 elections combined.

In response, Senator Reid recently lent his support to a constitutional amendment to empower Congress to regulate campaign fundraising without impediment from the courts.  The amendment was sponsored by two democrats and met with vitriol and fierce opposition from Sen. McConnell and the rest of the Republican Party. They continue to oppose any kind of campaign finance reform.  They also have been staunch opponents of several grass roots movements across the country that support establishing bipartisan commissions to be in charge of redistricting instead of the partisan process that exists in most states.

Let me conclude with one final example about how the free flow of money into politics is diametrically opposed to compromise and collaboration. In the Detroit bankruptcy, we actually saw some real bipartisan leadership in a crisis. The Republican Governor and leaders of the State Legislature on both sides pushed for a bipartisan “grand bargain” to help protect the Detroit Art Institute’s art and ease the cuts to retirees’ pensions.   In response, the Koch Brothers (through their political arm Americans for Prosperity, which has vowed to spend $125 million this election cycle) threatened to run ads against republican legislators who vote in favor of the appropriation before the August primary.

As long as conservatives keep money pouring into our elections (in staggering amounts) and continue to remove any real competition from our elections, U.S. politicians will never be able to collaborate.

(Todd) Obviously, we do disagree on some things, but we both are able to see some of the holes that continue to grow in the current environment. In many ways I believe that the constant media barrage, while intending to shine a light on the work of the government, has actually served to harm it at times. We see people pandering for media attention rather than seeking to actually lead. We see “listening tours”, committee meetings over asinine things with no real impact on America and constant posturing even on the floor of the two chambers (not just at the federal level, but also at the state) that is simply a “made for TV special”.

It’s time to stop. Let’s open up real communication, discuss ideas, disagree when necessary, but find some real positions that we can work toward for the betterment of this nation (and not simply for a small minority of people who have the money, power, media, or shock value to get governments attention)!

Why Teamwork is a Dirty Word in B-School

Bloomberg BusinessWeek published a story last Friday about teamwork. The only problem was that it wasn’t a piece that glorified the value of teamwork. Instead it was insight into the fact that American business school students hate teamwork.

This is a must read, not because the story is so well done (though it is), but it is a must read because it shows that business schools and business students seem to believe that real work is only based on their work as individuals. In life, we must learn to rely on one another. We must understand how to collaborate and connect.

Can we work to change this type of thinking, or is it too late?

Try. Fail. Try Again!

(Truth in blogging, the following was inspired by a recent failure. Yesterday along with my team at SynerVision Leadership Foundation, I attempted to integrate a new feature into our website as we prepare to launch. We figured out a lot, but it looked like a complete failure!)

If you have ever been part of the roll-out of any product or service, you certainly recognize the inherent failure of trying something new – it often flops. It might be better to classify that the first iteration of that new product or service flops. The product (whatever it may be) fails to actualize the image that you have held for it, its functioning is glitchy, and you have a hard time seeing people actually use it. With services it is often the unanswered question of how someone purchases it, redeems it, how do you market it, and make special deals on it.

If this is where we stopped, we would often have a whole list of failures that would make us want to give up. How many things are “perfect” on the first try? Quick answer – none of them (or as close to that as you can imagine)!

Why is it that we give up on the beauty of our dreams when failure happens? Is it the little voice sitting over us telling us “you’re not good enough for this to be a success”? Think about, Thomas Edison once said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up” and more famously (and more disputed – if he didn’t actually say it, he should have), “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

So stop it. Get over your feeling sorry. Get back out there and try again! ImageThe world is full of people who have failed countless more times than you and are now referred to in reverent tones for their success.  Reggie Jackson has the most strikeouts by any Major League Baseball hitter in history, but more importantly is known as Mr. October, a Hall of Famer, a man who hit over 500 home runs, made it to 14-All-Star games and won five World Series championships, along with two Silver Slugger Awards, the 1973 American League (AL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award, two World Series MVP Awards, and the 1977 Babe Ruth Award – yep, you can guess it, people don’t often talk about those strikeouts!

Go. Try. Fail. Come back, dust yourself off then try again! Not doing so is the only thing that would allow this learning to truly be failure!

Why Unstructured Time Might be the Best Thing to Happen to Your Organization

ImageFrederick Taylor and Henri Fayol each were responsible for developing a new way forward for labor. Fayol and Taylor were both responsible for much of the improvement in thinking about how work was accomplished in late-1800s through the mid-1900s. Many of the improvements for organizing a workforce into producing consistent, replicable work in industry can be attributed to their improvement of Henry Ford’s assembly line. Both of these engineers developed new concepts for management, of which some still can be found in operation today.

Why the history lesson? Today’s worker is all too often bound to a physical building, desk, or even phone by many of the management improvements of an era 80 to 150 year old. We still have the concept of the 40+ work week, time cards, and even office management that was perfect for industry but is largely out of place in the present technological, mind-oriented work world.

One of the saddest by-products of this overly rigid, out of step with what should be reality, work existence that many people live is that we constantly face burnout, disengagement, and apathy. One suggestion that seems to present an alternative to this chained-to-your-desk, time-card-punching functioning of previous generations is the institutional embrace of unstructured time.

You can read about the concept and its effects here, here, here, and here. The reality is that this unstructured time rather than being responsible for Facebook wandering and blog-rolling is often responsible for tremendous innovation in organizations. When you give people autonomy, resources, and support, it is amazing what they can come up with.

How would unstructured time impact your own workplace?

Give Without Expecting to Get

ImageSo, I admit, I am biased. I am personally pre-disposed to the needs of the group, pre-disposed to helping others, pre-disposed to providing resources for those that are in my sphere. What is exciting is that research by Wharton professor Adam Grant, in his book Give and Take, shows that those that are truly concerned about giving before they get actually turn out to have more long-term success than those that are takers first (though takers do often seem to be ahead in the short term).

Beyond Grant’s research (which is fantastic), this idea has been creeping up in many other unrelated spheres. In his book Startup Communities, Brad Feld encourages those working in and around communities for startups to focus on giving first. In other books like Go-Giver similar principles are encouraged in a slightly different context.

The reality is setting in. People who give ultimately receive even more than those who take, but why? First, let me suggest that those that give actually receive, simply by giving to others (the Apostle Paul quotes Jesus as saying “it is more blessed to give than to receive” in a speech in Acts 20:35). Intrinsically we feel good when we give, serve, help, and care. Retail therapy has become a big part of our consumeristic culture, but it has nothing on giving therapy in the long run!

Second, the reality of givers are that they have a strong network of people. In the process of giving without expectations, you strengthen bonds by showing that you are in a relationship for the long haul, rather than seeking some quick repayment. There are often people who tell you that they are willing to help, want to do anything they can to assist, etc. but never actually follow through (great intentions, but just not the biggest priority for them). Then there are those who are givers, these people thrive off of sharing with others and seeing them succeed.

Today, take some time to evaluate your mode – are you a giver? In what areas do you find yourself more pre-disposed to give? How do you react to the idea that givers get further in life than takers? Has that been your reality?

Teammate of the Year Award: Why the NBA Almost Got it Right!

Last year, among a litany of bigger, more coveted awards a NBA player was recognized for being a good teammate – errr, the best teammate. In the era of self-centered, ball-hogging, hero-ball that has clogged up the ranks of basketball from the youngest leagues through the professional ranks, the NBA did something that shocked me – they honored a teammate.

There may be more than a little bias on my part, but I have been absolutely thrilled with the selections for 2013 and 2014. The inaugural selection of the award was presented to a player whose identity changed from a slightly cocky point guard, who shot too much, and couldn’t run an offense through anyone but himself when he first entered the league to a player who served as the vocal floor-general on one of the best teams of the 2000s. Chauncey Billups had moved beyond elite player, to amazing teammate, teacher, and ambassador for the game. His was a fitting recognition.Image

This year, the award went to Shane Battier (who had been runner-up the previous year), who certainly exemplifies selflessness and team-orientation. Battier, a native of Birmingham, MI (suburb of Detroit) went from being the most highly recruited high school basketball player in the nation (when he played at Detroit Country Day – Chris Webber’s alma mater) being named the Naismith High School player of the year, to becoming another great at Duke where he led the team to the NCAA title and he was named the Naismith NCAA Player of the year (and was also a three-time Defensive Player of the Year in college).

Battier was selected 6th overall by the Grizzlies and throughout his early career was overlooked as an NBA player. Until, teams started to get it. No, Battier is not the quintessential NBA athlete. While 6’8” and having some quickness and jumping ability, Battier is not an athletic freak like you might think of when talking about Michael Jordan, Lebron James, or even Kobe Bryant. But Battier is a dogged competitor, a player who understands the team concept, and frankly has made every team he has played on better (as recognized by the championships won at each level – High School, College, and in the NBA). Battier is a great example and a perfect fit to follow Billups as the Teammate of the Year.

But, what pains me about this award is that outside of the reason for the name of the award (it is the Twyman-Stokes award), the amount that goes to charity ($25,000 to the charity of the player’s desire) and the actual voting mechanics and finish, nothing in the articles seem to point out anything about the greatness of these two players as teammates! What? Can you imagine a story on the MVP trophy or Defensive Player of the Year simply focusing on the mechanics of the voting process?

What about a piece like this (written by Michael Lewis of Moneyball fame) where the teammate is shown for the blessings and struggles he has faced? What about getting real quotes from teammates about the ways he has mentored, assisted, and shown true leadership on the team and in the community? Might it be possible to talk more in-depth about the foundation that the player is supporting, detailing how it fits into their role as a great teammate? Nope. Sorry!

It pains me to thank the NBA, none of the other Big 4 North American pro sports has this award, but could we do a little better in spotlighting what teamwork it is actually about?

[Coaching Corner] Pay Attention to these 4 Gaps to Overcome Prolonged Organizational Ineffectiveness

Sitting at your desk, couch, table, or preferred reading spot, you probably find yourself like many others wondering when the economy will fully turn around. In fact, you, like many others in similar situations, might actually have just been thinking about the difference between where your organization exists now and where you know it could be in the future. The good news is, you recognize there is a gap between what is and what could be. What if the beginning of the end of this organizational turmoil began with examining how you recruit and retain individuals and how you plan for the future, today!

In the present extended economic downturn, all organizations are facing tremendous challenges, internally and externally. One primary area of discomfort resides in your human resource capabilities. Right now, you are facing stiffer competition for every job posting due to a flood of un- and under-employed workers. This has allowed you and your competition to the opportunity to overly specialize openings, as with a bevy of individuals, you can easily weed out the masses to fit your needs. In part due to these changes, as well as the greater availability of continuing higher education, more individuals are taking advantage of their lull in employment and accessibility of higher education to engage in programs of learning and development.

Sounds like a golden opportunity for organizational growth, right? Well if you don’t adapt your organizational practices, it may simply be fool’s gold! While on one hand this might seem to be the perfect storm (think – greater pools of candidates with increasingly better capabilities), the other hand might be hiding a great potential for continued organizational despair.

If you, and your organization, fail to enact new strategies to adapt to the new economic realities, better candidates certainly will not be the magic wand to cure your ailments. The pace of change in the present economy, make necessary that you conduct thorough and forward-thinking gap analyses, or else the hiring of new individuals could actually exacerbate your organization’s downturn by costing you more money to onboard, people that in the end will become discontented with stagnant or outdated strategies.

Think about it, presently you (if you are responsible for recruiting or retaining employees) probably faced with stacks of resumes and pages of emails with resumes and cover letters. Your job is to cull through the carnage to find the person that best duplicates what you lost when the previous employee left the organization. Yet, is that really the best tactic? Does filling a present need (or even a previous need, in some situations) really help your organization turn into an industry leader?

Noted scholars on organization diagnostics, Harrison and Shirom (1999) note, that when decisions are made regarding closing current gaps, such framework can be tremendously short-sighted and miss the future needs in the environment. Which really begs the question, do you want to go where you already have been, or do you want to lead the future?

If you want to lead, it is imperative that you engage your organization in preparation for diagnosis and dialogue. Examine your present and anticipated future. Ask members of your organization, including executives, what they see as a long-term destination of the organization and do this prior to enacting hiring practices.

So where do you start? HRD experts, Gilley, Eggland, and Gilley (2002) note that organizations should examine potential gaps in four places to best prepare for the future: need gaps, performance gaps, management gaps, and organizational gaps.

Need Gaps – In the present economy, many organizations easily fall prey to simply trying to ‘replace’ outgoing workers with those that duplicate lost skillsets. However, when organizations examine need gaps in their personnel, it will better allow for adapting to the present and future climate. In many organizations, this means a greater emphasis must be placed on training for new skills, knowledge bases and abilities for current and future organizational needs. It is expected when these needs gaps are analyzed and endeavors are created to close these gaps the organization will have organizational members who have expertise in areas of greatest importance to the success of the organization.

Performance Gaps – Your organization probably has experienced one of the realities of the open systems framework – loss of energy within the confines of a system. In most organizations, this loss occurs simply due to poorly developed or maintained performance systems. Such gaps in performance may result from poor job designs, salary and reward structures that don’t meet the needs of high performing organizational members, and even poor realization of barriers to performance (both internal and external) in a work environment.

Management/Leadership Gaps – While bookstore shelves are covered with books on improving management and leadership ‘techniques’ many organizations still suffer from gaps between expectations (or expectations for the future) and current management and leadership behaviors. It is no longer acceptable for managers and organizational leaders to lack the important ‘soft skills’ in this knowledge economy. Organizations must prepare for the future by hiring and developing individuals throughout the organization that communicate well, listen effectively, dialogue with individuals at all levels of the organization, and facilitate the development of others. This means that organizations must examine their investment in training and development of organizational members, as well as the examples set by those at the executive level.

Organizational Gaps – This may be the largest and most overlooked area of need in gap analysis. Many organizations suffer from misfit between personnel and technology, personnel and organizational structure, technology and environment, environment and strategy, etc. While obviously a potential strain on resources, particularly in the present economic slowdown, conducting a full organizational gap analysis can actually save time, money, key organizational members and stress and strain in the long run. Too often, organizations continue to function with low levels of adaptability and reflection even as the environment, personnel, product/service, etc. changes. It is imperative that organizations not only enact, but encourage a continual analysis of organization-wide gaps in order to stay prepared for the future.

Your organization cannot afford to simply duplicate past performances, nor can you simply replace outgoing employees in filling present and future job openings. If expectations exist for increases in future performance throughout the organization, a greater level of inquiry into the present and intended outcomes related to the needs, performance, management and organization must be conducted. Strategic preparation and design cannot be wishful thinking if growth and increased performance are desired. Begin to think big, be creative, and ask the tough questions of yourself and your organization.