Naomi had several sheets in front of her, spread out like a game of solitaire. “I don’t understand,” she remarked. “I thought I had this group nailed together.”
I dug deep into my bag of diagnostic questions and asked, “How so?”
“Our company has really been working hard this year on teamwork. We know that higher levels of cooperation and cross support make a big difference on our output. I thought I had this team dialed in, but sometimes cooperation seems to be the last thing on their mind.”
“What makes you think you had this team dialed in?” I asked.
Naomi was quick to respond, “Oh, we started out this year with a big retreat, back when we had budget for it. It was a great team building experience. We had a ropes course and we did group games. I mean, we didn’t sing Kumbaya, but, you know, it was a great weekend. Everyone came out of there feeling great.”
“And how long did you expect that to last?” I probed.
“Well, the consultant told us we needed to create some sort of team bonus, you know, where every one depends on the rest of the team to get a little something extra at the end. That way, if one makes it, they all make it. Shared fate, he called it.”
“I see. And how is that working out for you?”
If team members were not interchangeable commodities, what would change about our hiring practices (building the team)? What if, out of the candidate pool, based on the role, there was only one or two players who truly fit? What would change about our approach to recruiting?
If we weren’t so casual, so cavalier in our hiring practices, what would change?
Here is what I see –
Most companies do a poor job of truly defining the work in the role. We have only a half-baked idea what we need from this role. We have not identified the decision making in this role, nor the problem solving required. With this half-baked role idea (role description, poorly written), it is no wonder we settle for an unmatched candidate who has no clearer idea than we do of what they are supposed to do.
So, let’s start there. In the role, what are the decisions that have to be made and what are the problems that have to be solved. Once you have this figured out, then you can begin to look at candidates.
In any sport, there is the game and there are the players. For both sides of the contest, the rules are the same, the playing pitch is the same. The two primary variables are techniques (methods, processes) and people. Methods and processes are important, but you don’t have to watch a sporting event for very long to see that the discussion is focused on the people, the players, the talent.
Most sporting teams commit considerable budget and effort in recruiting. What is the major difference between a winning team and a losing team? It is rarely technique. It’s all about the people.
The most important part of building any successful company is building the team. Often, we see team members as interchangeable commodities, always replaceable. What if that weren’t true. What if team members weren’t replaceable, interchangeable commodities? What would change about our hiring practices as we build this team?
As a manager, you are often faced with a problem to solve. And, you think, if I could just get my team involved, there are some benefits. Team problem solving –
- Communicates the accountability to the team
- Brings in a diversity of fresh ideas
- Brings in ideas that can be combined with other ideas
- Challenges the team to contribute their best thinking
- Brings in other perspectives on what the real problem is
- Surfaces additional “what if” scenarios
- Speeds execution of the solution
So, why don’t we get our team involved more often?
- We don’t have time
- Our team members are already overworked
- Our team members are too busy to attend a problem solving meeting
- It’s not their problem
Our objections are just head-trash. Every time the manager solves a problem for the team, it cripples the team from engaging in problem-solving behavior.
The team still needs a guide. And when you float the problem, they will resist, at first they will panic. Your job, as a manager, is to simply outlast the panic. If you want to build a team, give them a real problem to solve. -Tom
“So, Roger. I am not going to give you all ten projects,” I repeated. “Not yet. Before I do that, we have some growing to do. You handled three projects superbly, the fourth you began to be late and by the fifth project, things really began to slip. But, you have potential. Ten simultaneous projects will require a different approach from you.”
“You said I would have to build a team,” Roger replied.
“Yes, and building a team is more complex than building a checklist.”
“I think I can step back from all my projects and see the things about those projects that are identical, the things that are similar and the things that are different. That’s why my checklists are helpful. But building a team, I am not sure where to start,” Roger admitted.
“At the beginning, of course,” I smiled. “Let’s start with something you know how to do. You are good at making a list. I want you to make a list of everyone on your current team.”
“I can do that,” Roger agreed. “Any particular order?”
“Yes, you know that some of your team members are more capable than others. You know that, because you have worked with them, watched them make decisions and solve problems. I want you to put your team members in order, with the most capable at the top and the least capable at the bottom. When you have finished that list, let’s get together and you can tell me about each one.”