‘Harvard Business Review’: Five tips for better teamwork

Published: 11 April 2017 By Michael Schrage

‘Harvard Business Review’: Five tips for better teamwork

Teams require more than the time and talents of committed individuals

 

Michael Schrage

People need to feel that the benefits of being team players measurably outweigh the perceived and real costs of compromise and self-sacrifice

People need to feel that the benefits of being team players measurably outweigh the perceived and real costs of compromise and self-sacrifice

 

Discussing teamwork without identifying its incentives is akin to debating effective diets while ignoring willpower: The most important ingredient may be missing.

Organisations that truly want their people to work better together need to explicitly acknowledge and embrace the productive relationships that elevate the individuals who make them. What makes teams – and teamwork – work goes beyond the time and talents of committed individuals striving toward a desired outcome. People need to feel that the benefits of being team players measurably outweigh the perceived and real costs of compromise and self-sacrifice. That’s the incentive for taking incentives more seriously.

Getting the incentives right and appropriately aligned requires embracing the 5 As: 

1. Acknowledge. A recent ESPN documentary celebrating Dean Smith, the late North Carolina basketball coach whose teams won two national championships and an Olympic gold medal, highlighted the simple but powerful techniques he used to cultivate team spirit.

Players who scored were expected to explicitly point to the last player who passed them the ball. Some scorers took it upon themselves to point to the last two teammates who assisted. Players on the bench were expected to stand up, applaud and welcome teammates coming off the floor for rest or time-out. These seemingly trivial gestures, according to Smith’s players, were central to reinforcing the culture that one’s teammates deserved to be acknowledged for their contributions. Don’t take people’s assistance and support for granted: point them out. 

2. Attribute. Organisations and enterprises that need teamwork to win don’t simply attribute success to stars, they build attribution cultures around collaboration, co-ordination, consultation and communication. The rise of social media both inside the company firewall and outside of it make attribution and acknowledgement easier to do and share. 

3. Assign. When problems and opportunities arise, smart leaders and managers don’t just assign the best people to deal with them; they assign the best teams.

Putting a bunch of people in a room and giving them a budget and deliverables doesn’t make a successful team any more than putting a bunch of cooks in a kitchen makes a Michelin restaurant. How will individual skills and talent complement each other? Will the whole prove consistently greater than the sum of its parts? Will teammates consistently and productively acknowledge and attribute each other’s contributions? Whether self-managed, coached, or led by an individual, teammates recognise that accountability is a collective assignment, not the sum of individual measures. 

4. Award. Does enterprise culture and process recognise and reward teams and teamwork with the same energy, enthusiasm, and investment as for individuals? Award is both a noun and verb that leaders must acknowledge, attribute and assign to teams. 

5. Assess/Analyse. The trends and technologies around self-quantification are important and impressive. They must extend to team and teamwork quantification. The data-rich organisation lends itself to innovative ways of measuring how well people work together as teams and as collections of individuals. The opportunities to see how technical improvements in acknowledgement and attribution lead to more productive team assignments are expanding. Better team and teamwork metrics and analytics will transform cultural and operational expectations around how people can create new value together. – ( Harvard Business Review 2015)

Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Centre for Digital Business, is the author of the books Serious Play and Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become?

 

Previously published in The Irish Times.

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