Organizational productivity is dependent upon teamwork, which I describe as two or more people working together for a common goal. “Team” can be expressed or implied, conscious or unconscious, but regardless, organizational productivity depends upon the effectiveness of interdependent, collaborative effort.

Teamwork can be fair, good or great, but there really is no such thing as bad teamwork. If you think about it, bad-teamwork is actually an oxymoron. To further this point, the English language doesn’t have one single word to describe the opposite of teamwork. We generally associate “the opposite of teamwork” with uncooperativeness, inter-organizational competition, backbiting, and under productivity.

Partners or families endeavoring to develop, manage or grow a business often struggle with building strong collaborative teams. As a result, I am often asked what I think is the single most critical component of teamwork. My answer is always the same: trust. Trust is the bonding agent that provides the foundation upon which harmony, productivity and success are built.

Unity and harmony may be organizational core values, but these characteristics are not developing because there is a lack of trust, vertically and laterally. Employees lack trust that other leaders, managers or employees have their backs regarding the litany of issues that support peace of mind in the workplace. No doubt, in the absence of peace of mind, we have “dreamwork” wherein employees continue to look over their shoulder and be distracted from what they are being paid to do.

So how do we build organizational trust that will stop the “dream” and build a real team to support business succession?

1. Understand the perspectives and motivations of your people.

Some people have natural trust or faith that others will fulfill expressed expectations. These trusting personalities can quickly make commitments to the group cause; they give others the benefit of the doubt and understand their needs and goals can best be achieved through collaboration. Affirmation and recognition of these natural team players is very important to the achievement and maintenance of team synergy. Unfortunately, team candidates who are naturally trusting are rare.

The challenge is working with the skeptics who represent the vast majority of the team candidates. They say they are team players, but they really don’t trust that others are watching their backs; they believe in survival of the fittest. Skeptics are concerned about vulnerability and hold back total commitment. They are alert to opportunities to advance their personal priorities even at the well-disguised expense of others. The credo of the skeptic is: success by survival. The conversion or culling of the skeptics ultimately determines the success of the team.

The last category of employee is the untrusting who is incompatible to serving as an integral member of a team.

2. After eliminating the untrusting, assume that everyone remaining is a skeptic and must be won over one at a time.

Don’t condemn the skeptics. To the contrary, acknowledge that an interdependent team attitude is not natural human behavior for them, it must be learned. To convert the skeptics and teach teamwork, express and continue to relentlessly reaffirm that working as a team will be more gratifying, productive and secure than taking on the world as the Lone Ranger without Tonto. This is not a hard sell because economic stress has made your employees extremely receptive to the concept that it is in their best interest to assume a vested interest in the welfare of their colleagues, team members and employer. Sell the team vision that relies upon cross accountability, creates less dependence upon the talents of a few superstars and places more reliance upon the normal doing the abnormal – working as a team. Communicate an expectation of doing more with less and recognize those who give it up for the team. The best way for a leader to demonstrate commitment to teamwork is to participate as a member of a team (without being the leader) demonstrating that he/she can trust and is trust worthy.

Business success, growth and succession cannot reasonably rely upon a dream, but these goals are certainly within the grasp of a team.


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