The Executive Meathead: Don't Call it a TEAM

TAGS: team dynamic, setting rules, objectives, measurable results, establishing goals, Don't Call it a Team, corporations, team, the executive meathead

elitefts™ Sunday Edition

I recently spent an entire day with my HR department reviewing the resumes of several individuals who are interested in a senior leadership position within the healthcare organization that I joined a few months ago. This is my least favorite part of the employee selection process because I have always had a hard time deciding a person's merit based on a couple of pages of paper; however, there is no way that I would ever allow HR to decide what a "qualified" applicant is (especially for a position as important as this one is), so it is something that I choose to endure. All the same, this practice always puts me in a foul mood, not because of the time that it takes, but because of the predictability of the resumes themselves. For those of you who do this as well, tell me if these sound familiar:

"Led an inter-disciplinary TEAM of professionals in a product improvement initiative."

"TEAM centered leader who really cares about his direct reports."

"Built a sales-TEAM that surpassed all stretch-goals."

TEAM, TEAM, TEAM...this is the one word, in my humble opinion, that gets overused and abused the most in practically all corporate environments. It is not uncommon for managers to slap the word "team" on any group of individuals who work in their office, shop, gym, facility, plant, garage...you get the picture. Perhaps they believe that this will inspire the individuals (who could otherwise give a crap about each other) to share a common goal and work together to achieve their objective without any conflict or tension. Because of this gross overuse of the term, what we have seen is a complete dilution of the  word "team." It is no longer special or appreciated, and that is truly a tragedy.

I have talked of this with several of my colleagues who have participated in collegiate athletics or the military, and they have often agreed with my observation. The word "team" seldom carries any significance in our corporate cultures. One of my former procurement managers, who happened to be a decorated Army Airborne paratrooper, once stated that "the word 'team' should only be used when the individuals involved demonstrate a profound appreciation of the interdependence required to accomplish the objectives laid out before them." When I asked him, "how do you know when a group gets to that level?" He responded with a smile, "You just know. It changes everything and the results speak for themselves...both in success and in failure."

Great quote...but not very helpful.

Being a bit type-A, I needed a little more to go on than "you just know." So I went back to my athletic roots, both high school and collegiate, to get more definition.

I had the privilege to play on the offensive line of a small college football team for four years. I know that I am heavily biased in my opinion, but I feel that the offensive line is one of the greatest examples of teamwork, for better or for worse, that exists in all of sports. Five individual players charged with the responsibility of working as one cohesive unit in order to protect the "skilled" players and create opportunities for them to get in the end-zone. The consequences for failure are extreme, and the rewards for success are nothing more than victories for the team. The "front five" seldom get mentioned in the newspaper and have no other metric that people keep track of other than "sacks allowed." This reality requires a level of emotional maturity that is difficult to grow, hard to maintain, and, unfortunately, very easy to lose. I had the benefit of being part of some great offensive lines during my collegiate experience, and as I reflect on the qualities that we shared, these are some of the many things that made those experiences special.

Chemistry is a Prerequisite

In other words, the individuals within the group must give a damn about each other and have a firm understanding that the objectives assigned to the team supersede any and all personal agendas. In this current "all about me" culture, this dynamic is the hardest to achieve and the easiest to destroy. However, a great team cannot exist without it. In my experience, the way you obtain this quality is to make certain that employees get the opportunity to spend time together without an agenda (i.e. team off sites, lunches, employee events). In doing so, they first become familiar with one another before they are given a challenging objective. This is also where the dreaded but highly valuable personality profiles can be so helpful because the group learns pretty intimate details of their co-workers, which can lead to far better understanding and acceptance by the group as a whole. Group acceptance can lead to group confidence, group confidence can lead to group engagement, and group engagement is a firm foundation for outstanding results.

Introduction of Ground Rules

Whenever I am working with a new group of individuals, I always work on establishing the ground rules as soon as I possibly can. This gives each individual and the team as a whole both permissions and boundaries for practically all group interactions and responsibilities. It makes it easier on me to hold individuals accountable for their performance, and it gives the group its identity. One word of advice regarding this practice: make certain that you involve as many team members as possible when you are creating the ground rules. Employees of any level are always far more open to expectations if they have a hand in making them, and they are also far more likely to hold their peers accountable for poor performance/behavior as well.

Clear Objectives with Measurable Results

Regardless of whether or not your team is on the factory floor or in the c-suite, teams thrive only when they are given clear objectives and measurable results. I realize that there have literally been thousands of books and articles attempting to communicate this point, but for some reason, our corporate world has chosen to ignore this very simple but incredibly important detail. All too often, team objectives become blurred or far too broad; thus, half the time spent in meetings/work groups is spent deciding "what" and "why" the team has been created rather than the more important "how" are we going to get to where we need to go? There also needs to be strict attention towards the establishment of measurable results/bench marks and an informal group contract that, regardless of the outcomes, the team will always make a commitment to keep moving forward. Even if the scoreboard at the end of the game shows a victory, there are still things the team can do to improve.

There are, of course, many more aspects of TEAM that could be listed above, and my hope for all who are reading this is that, at least at some point in your athletic/work experience, you have had the opportunity to experience being on an exceptional team. For those that have, cherish that experience and see if you can recreate it over and over again. For those who have not, please do not use the term until you have had personal experience with it. A team is much more than a group of individuals thrown together haphazardly. It takes time to develop and needs to be given the significance/attention that it so richly deserves.

I always want to know the thoughts of our readers so please do not hesitate to comment below. Thanks for reading.

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