Article (August-2018)


All about adding a secret sauce by master chef

Usha Chirayil

Designation : -   HR Director & Head of Talent Management Function

Organization : -  KPMG Global Services, Bengaluru


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How do you define teamwork in contemporary terms?
UC Team work is much more than the definition given by a typical Business Dictionary which usually focusses on 'process of working collaboratively with a group of people in order to achieve a goal.'
Teamwork implies that team members aim to cooperate, using their individual skills and providing constructive feedback, setting aside any personal conflict between individuals.
In contemporary teams I would look at team work as 'the ability to 'fly in formation' while delivering complex assignments in an extremely volatile environment.'
Having trust in team members to the extent of a circus trapeze artist - as the complexity of assignments imply that split second decisions can lead to make or break implications.
While dwelling on the definition it's also important to know that inculcating the strengths of team members does not mean there can be a 'one size fits all' approach. One needs to give space to individual diversity as well and allow team members to bring in their whole self to work thus helping them unleash positive energy towards lofty team goals.
What do you think - Is team building/team work an art or a science? Do you (in your organisation) have ever thought over the chemistry and mathematics of team work (please share with an anecdote)?
UC Team building is indeed a complex science interwoven with unique artistry of team chemistry.
While the basic building blocks could have some scientific elements for example - define a structure, a role for each member, a stage of norming-forming-storming-performing and so on; the true magic begins once there is a secret sauce added by a master chef.
The secret sauce is usually derived fromĀ  experience - an ability to read the unsaid; understand the strengths of team members; allocate tasks and responsibility according to their strengths; ensure there is a flow of communication; break any cliques that form; reward behaviour that builds and take action if there are conflicts.
I recall a workshop I facilitated for a manager who had received a feedback report on his people management skills.
As he was a first time manager he had been extremely diligent in following all guidelines he learnt in the training for 'First Time Managers'. He was an engineer so maintained detailed action plans and notes on his one-on-one discussions with team members. Hence he was puzzled to see a low score on aspects of 'trust and transparency'.
A detailed discussion followed and the team members revealed a strange interpretation of his behaviour that he had overlooked. The manager had a tendency to volunteer to complete assignments on behalf of his supervisor. This meant he often worked very late into the night. While leaving office many of his team members felt guilty leaving their boss at work yet hesitated to ask him if they could help. They wondered why he did not trust and involve them in his deliverables! Therefore they rated him low on this aspect.
A simple solution was derived for future interactions - the team members would be direct in volunteering help. The manager would not assume on behalf of the team and where feasible involve them in the special assignments. While the science had been followed diligently, the art needed to evolve.
What does it really mean to be a team player, in times when virtual teams and robots are taking over the workplace where technology neutralizes the chemistry of teamwork?
UC The team players role does not diminish in the age of AI. While some jobs get automated the actual players are still human beings. Be it the end customer who waits for an emotional connect to a brand or a team member using hi tech tools, each awaits recognition that deep down s/he is a human being with emotions.
In fact most conflicts within teams begin when some aspect of the human is ignored or an automated work environment pushes everyone to act like robots and there is a breakdown of communication.
Even interacting with virtual teams spread over continents requires the basic building blocks of trust and human interaction and so on.
Hence team work will continue to be an important ingredient that helps to build cohesion and ensure contribution from each team member towards deliverables.