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Winning Through Teamwork

October 5, 2008

“A team is as strong as the relationships within it. Always want more, always give more. Stick together. Focus on being mentally stronger and always keep going until the end. Show the desire to win in all that you do. Enjoy and contribute to all that is special about being in a team – don’t take it for granted.”

This advice might have come from many inspirational business leaders – and I will identify its source a little later – but the real point here is the applicability of these sentiments to anyone seeking sustained success. How many of these behaviors are truly endemic to the environment in which we work? Far too often, I encounter corporate cultures where the readiness to find fault, to criticize and to apportion blame is close to the surface. Rather than lauding what was done right, or working together to improve, there is a readiness to highlight the problems and inadequacies of others. Today’s environment of fear, where regulatory and reputation risk play into the hands of groups with control instincts, is increasing many of these internal frictions.

A lack of trust inevitably leads to exclusive, rather than inclusive, behavior. Groups like Procurement, Legal and Commercial / Contract Management are frequent victims of exclusion, or indeed seek to exclude themselves, believing they are in some way ‘special’ or ‘too busy’ to be part of the core team.  As a result, “We were involved too late”, is a frequent cry. Or, “We could have warned them about that if only management had included us.”

Victims remain victims unless they take control. And speciaists become increasingly irrelevant and exposed if they do not find way to integrate. We become part of the team through our commitment to its success, not by right. So the groups I observe struggling are typically those wth a focus on control and compliance, those that depend on the whims of executive management for their inclusion and influence. Groups like these are not seen as team players – they are seen more as auditors or line judges.

So what does our management guru advocate? He focuses on getting talented people to work together. And to do this, he hires good players, though he never overpays and does not want people who will disrupt the overall rewards pattern. He focuses on building teams with a clear sense of identity and common purpose. They are required to prepare thoroughly and then trusted to take their responsibility seriously.

How might we go about building such winning teams? One key characteristic that we have been promoting at IACCM is the commitment to empower. If we work to enable others and to apply our talents only when they are truly needed, not only do we become more valued, but we also gain increased status and respect.  This point was emphasized recently by Tammy Erickson in a Harvard Business Review blog: “Increase your firms ‘collaborative capacity’ by building relationships and encouraging knowledge exchange …. Find ways to help your organization become more spontaneous, innovative and reflexive. Pass the ball.”

Of course, another basis of judgment will be to measure results over time – how often do you win, to what extent are the desired outcomes achieved, and what patterns can be identified to ensure lessons are learnt and improvements continuously made?

So to build winning teams, we must focus on enabling others. It must be obvious that our commitment is to team success, not personal glory.  We must get out of the way when we have limited relevance or added-value; and when we are involved, we must share information and work towards finding solutions, not problems.

For many of us today, this challenge in fact goes further than just our own organization. ‘The team’ is increasingly composed of people from multiple companies and cultures. Success can only occur if it is achieved by all the players. That means our philosophies of teamwork must increasingly extend across a network of organizations – suppliers, sub-contractors and customers. The common purpose may be a successful outsourcing initiative, or a major construction project.

Therefore the development of powerful teaming instincts and methods will increasingly be a key competitive advantage, bringing speed, quality and agility to business operations. It is an area in which we can bring leadership (for example, in designing negotiation or post-award contract management methods); but whether as leaders or participants, the critical issue is that we must exhibit collaborative behaviors. “Enjoy and contribute to all that is special about being in a team.” In other words, recognize that teamwork is not a threat to our power or authority – it is in fact a pre-requisite – and in addition to that it can be fun!

So who is the management leader who made our introductory quote? It is Arsene Wenger, coach at Arsenal Football Club. And his words were not written for publication – they were a reminder to his team of the values he instils and expects. As a fan of Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal’s great rivals, I hope he has got it wrong. But given results over recent years, I suspect he has not! So in the interests of teamwork, I suppress my natural instincts to belittle Mr Wenger and his team, and instead pay tribute to his achievements and contribution to knowledge exchange.

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