Article (September-2018)


INTERVIEW - Time to burst myths about team work

Dr. Sanjay Muthal

Designation : -   Executive Director

Organization : -  Insist Executive Search, Mumbai


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How do you define teamwork in contemporary terms?
SM Team work as we know is a collaborative effort of a team to achieve a common goal or to complete a task in a most effective way. In contemporary terms, the context have changed. The business models have changed. This has had a profound effect on how we do things at work. Technology is a most important part of this change. All around us Technology is influencing every aspect of life. Work life is no exception. People/processes etc in organizations have been impacted. The linear thinking business models are dead and gone. Today you have disruptions happening at work place and it has profound effect on the way you used to work and now how you need to work. Therefore it has had impact on our people and hence the teams. You have people of multi-generational background in one team, you also have multi-leveled technology friendly people at work and in teams. Some are technology friendly, some are far from it. How does one create collaborative team work in disruptive world? In such complex situation for me what work best for better team work is to think 'Simplicity is the best form of sophistication'. Team leader must take all the choices and ways of doing things & simplify them for team.
Struggling between art and science form of team work, have ever thought over the chemistry and mathematics of team work ?
SM It's a classical dichotomy to say whether team work is an art or science. To me it is both. First what makes a great team? There is an entire scientific field to support that team building in science. Like high performing teams share similar attributes like energy, creativity, mutual commitment which can be qualified and measured. Fair enough to suggest the science part of the team work. Now let us look at the art side, we know high performing teams have few common characteristics viz everyone in a team talks and listens to in roughly equal measure, everyone talks to each other and not only team leader. Team members carry out 'back channel' or side conversation and so on. Here is where the art of team work comes to play. Team leader has to depend on his expertise of picking the members of the above traits and this is a gut decision. Here lies the art of team building. The science comes from the brain, the neuro faculty of human being whereas art emerges from the emotion which lets say emerges from the heart. Team building needs both, the science and emotion to come to the fore in delivering great team work. Lagan the movie depicted perfect blend of science and art while becoming victorious at the cricket game. Aamir Khan knew who had the scientific capabilities and skills to deliver results and hence chose a perfect team while he exploited emotions to ensure that team gets madly motivated to defeat the British team and win the game to ensure the whole village and area don't have to pay lagan, i.e. taxes.
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?
SM Virtual teams have become reality in today's multi-geographical, multi-locational and multi-cultural organizations. This naturally leads to individual team members complaining a sense of isolation and lack of connection with other team members due to geographical distance, different time zones and sometimes very different mix of communication styles due to cultural lineages. In such a situation, it is extremely important that organizations choose right team members. To me, there are few essential traits a virtual team member must possess : He needs to be a team player, keen collaborator, culturally sensitive, extremely good in communication, flexible in his outlook, be it around time zones, culture etc and last but not the least, has to be competent in usage of technology. For an effective virtual team, role coordination is extremely important. Virtual teams are generally flatter in organizational structures. They are formed for a specific duration, may be for a project and can face difficulties in managing individual tasks due to the time zone differences or sometimes due to cultural differences. In a virtual team, members play three important types of roles :
(1) Task oriented or functional roles - viz. Expert in particular field or function.
(2) Socio-emotional roles - viz. Help build trust, collaboration.
(3) Individual roles - Generally around personal needs of the team member - viz. Recognition need or control need.
Hence for a successful and collaborative virtual team where technology can neutralize the team work, it is important that every team member is selected carefully who performs efficiently the task oriented and socio-emotional roles well and avoids negative individual roles.
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"?
SM Team work is second most googled word after leadership. We all know how good team work is central to the success of every organization. Classically a successful team is meant to be having team members who communicate well with each other, they focus on goals and results, each team member does his or her own work and contributes to team's goal. They offer each other support. Teams are diverse but united by purpose and are led by a leader whom they trust and respect. They show genuine commitment and are flexible. However apart from the classical team qualities and abilities listed above, in today's dynamic and disruptive business environment, the team leader needs to go beyond the traditional mindset. You need a few more things to be a successful leader and lead a great team :
1. Shared values & culture : As people operate in different geographical zones, different time zones and in dispersed teams, they need guidelines and value system to help them make right and ethical decisions. Ethics in business is at center stage more than ever and hence leader must set a team culture which is values driven and doesn't compromise on company's stated mission and purpose.
2. Open transport feedback and free flow of information : Gone are those days when information only flew top to bottom in the organization. Org structures today are becoming more flat and collegiate in nature. Hierarchies are evaporating. Hence transparency within the team is extremely central to its success. Inclusion is the mantra here. In digital world, dashboards, digital information centers and types play important role in creating that free flow of information and help team bond better.
3. A new mindset of team members getting recognized and rewarded for their contributions and not position : All team members are equal as team members. They don't carry their position to the team. Hence what you contribute to team is more important than who you are and what your title is. This also drives a message that everyone is important and no one is indispensable.
4. Help them help themselves : Allow people to fail. Every failure is a beginning of new learning. If you don't try, you will never succeed and failure is integral part of the success. Leader in today's context must understand that there is another path and that could be more effective. That perhaps can lead to faster resolution of a problem. A leader must play a role of enabler and help team members help themselves.
What are some of the myths behind effective teams and team workers?
SM Lots of us have certain belief and mindset around what good teams and team members should possess for effective team work. For me, there are few myths that I continue to see leaders grapple with or fall prey :
1. Harmony & peace is good for team work : Contrary harmony can be detrimental to a good team. Conflict is likely to get you more creative solution in many situations.
2. Collective intelligence is better than individual intelligence : Not true. In every situation a team can have an individual who gets some intelligent ideas to solve the problem. A leader must recognize that and harness that. The leader must take that call in ensuring that collective wisdom is also recognized while harnessing individual wisdom.
3. Bigger the team better the performance : Not true at all. Sometimes the bigger size can be an impediment to a good collaboration and team work. On the contrary, small teams could be more efficient and effective.
4. Technology & digitalization is now a solution to face-to-face meetings : While this could be a reality for large, diverse, multi-geographical organization but one cannot recognize the value of face-to-face meetings wherever feasible to drive collaboration.
5. Successful teams always get along : True mostly but sometimes most productive teams fight productively about new ideas. It is good to agree to disagree and move ahead to find newer solutions.
6. Bring in a new member to bring in new ideas and energy : On the contrary, longer the association, better it is for improving team performance.
What is the role of HR in accelerating chemistry for teamwork?
SM HR can support effective team working and accelerating chemistry of team work by few basic steps :
1. Define a clear purpose and agenda for each team : For any team to be successful, they must have a clear purpose. Purpose drives individuals to excel in a team. HR must define clear goals and outcomes. Involve team members in setting goals for the team. People will always own their goals which they themselves set for the team. Individual team members must subscribe to the team and its goals. Here HR can play a very meaningful role.
2. Measuring the team performance : What gets measured, gets done. And whatever is done also has an opportunity to improve. Hence HR can help set up clear metrics to measure team performances and report them to leaders. This will also help if any corrective action needs to be taken mid-course. 
3. Setting up a reward mechanism : Sound reward policies like variable pay linked to team performance can help motivate teams to achieve the team goals.
4. Support team work through effective HR strategy via Recruitment & Retention; Training & development; Engagement initiatives : HR can help create team work enabling people architecture. 
5. Coming up with team building initiatives : These initiatives are classical HR interventions but are still very effective, especially to improve interpersonal relationships, defining roles and encouraging teams to collaborate.