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 from  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.
Do you believe that apart from popular traits of effective team and team workers, something more is required in changing fast paced business environment? What should be that "something"?
UC The magic elixir for team work could be something very basic - an understanding and acceptance of the importance of team work such that it is given importance while designing processes so the focus is not only on 'task' aspects but also on the socio-emotional aspects of the team. This would help ensure that importance is given to the contribution of each team member and there is some mechanism to capture feedback (not only top down but between team members).
It is easy to overlook this in an era of automation. In a fast paced environment there is a tendency to attribute success to superior technology. However even the most advance technology cannot prevent a disaster like the Challenger - without every team member being in sync and contributing their best. There are many potential disasters waiting to happen whose efforts get compounded by the effects of so called superior technology.
What are some of the myths behind effective teams and team workers?
UC Myth 1 - Team work is either present on absent - one cannot make efforts towards it :
Reality : Each team member and manager needs to consciously work towards a good team experience.
Myth 2 - If you have a good team manager the rest will fall in place.
Reality : Even the best manager can fail if the team members do not co-operate.

 Myth 3 - Team work is an over rated concept. The 'hard aspects' like clear roles and responsibility and a leader who is empowered to crack the proverbial whip is all it needs for success.

Reality : The best technical brains can fail without a proper team environment.
Myth 4 - Offsite and big budgets are required to foster team work.
Reality : Small teams that meet regularly over a cup of tea in a spirit of comradeship can be equally effective at breaking the ice and working together.
Myth 5 - If team members like each other and are similar there is better chance of team work.
Reality : Vastly different personality types and people with diverse tastes can work together if there is a common agreement and commitment towards team goals.
What is the role of HR in accelerating chemistry for teamwork?
UC A good HR team member can act as a facilitator or catalyst for team work. By playing the role of a neutral sounding board, the HR Team can do the following :
Foster team work by calling it out as an important value in the organisation's culture.
Role model and describe what good team work looks (in behavioural terms).
Reward team members who display the characteristics of good team work by supporting common goals and going beyond the call of duty.
Have periodic assessments through group exercises to facilitate structured dialogue in case there is a break down in team communication.
Create opportunities for increased communi-cation ranging from simple shared meals to physical events like marathons; volunteering opportunities; professi-onal development sessions or field trips.
(Views expressed are personal and not that of the organization)