Teamwork is Omnipotent Engine for Excellence

Sy Mokadi-Learning and Development Facilitator

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Jerry Useem says life’s richest experiences often happen in concert with others. Robert Frost says people work together, whether they work together or apart. Anthony Jay says high-performing companies believe that teams rather than individuals are the basic building blocks of successful organizations.

The postulation is that human existence is team affair. Human beings are incapable to survive long outside congregated formations. A team is a congregation of diverse people who pursue a shared goal through interdependent relationships; diverse and complimentary skills and diverse and reciprocal roles. A team provides individual benefits: personal growth, career pathing and leadership skills, and organizational benefits: organizational stability, resilience, competitiveness and sustainability.

Ancient Africans said, “Two ants do not fail to pull one grasshopper” (Tanzanian Proverb). Legendary Basketball Player, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says that one person is a crucial ingredient on a team, but s/he cannot make a team. Another Legendary Basketball Player, Michael Jordan says that talent wins games, but teamwork wins championships. John Maxwell says that the belief that one person can do something great is a myth…One is too small a number to achieve greatness. Anthony Jay says that it is not the individual but the team that is the instrument of enduring success. John Henry Patterson says that success is founded on cooperation. The postulation is that excellence is achieved through teamwork and never through silo mentality. Teamwork generates performance greater than the sum of the performances of its individual members. When people want to achieve excellence, they are inclined to resort to teamwork; collaborative effort through diverse yet complimentary skills, and diverse yet reciprocal roles, in pursuit of shared goal(s). Teamwork is the basic building block for excellence because self-made excellence is a fallacy. Excellence is achieved with or through others.

Teamwork is preceded by teambuilding; a situational art because each team situation is peculiar. Teambuilding is deliberate and long-term process of negotiating with and nurturing a group of diverse people into a team through shared goal and shared values. The former fosters unity of purpose and ensures that a team exists to pursue something tangible. The latter turns a team into a cultural organization that thrives through behavioural boundaries. As conflict is inherent in teams, teambuilding requires conflict resolution skills. And if team conflict becomes endemic the team is no more.

Teambuilding manifests through Teambuilding Doctrine and Teambuilding Model. A doctrine is a framework of pillars that holds a team together without losing sight of shared goal and shared values. The first pillar is leadership. “Anyone who thinks s/he leading and has no one following him/her is only taking a walk” (Malawian Proverb). When a person introduces him/herself as a leader we are bound to ask, where is your team? Excellence pursuit is a team pursuit because it is a led pursuit. Hence, as John Maxwell attests, the sign of a great team leader is the proper placement of people. The second pillar is adept talent. Excellence (re)produces excellence. Only disciplined, creative and proficient talent can achieve excellence. The third pillar is communication. Teamwork is contact sport where effective communication fosters contact. The fourth pillar is consistency. Consistency is the signature of excellence; inconsistency is the signature of mediocrity.

There are different teambuilding models. Here are three of them. Meredith Belbin Teambuilding Model has four steps. Step 1: Set a goal to explain the purpose of the team. What the team exists to achieve. Step 2: Find well-balanced candidates, adequate in number and in diversity of talents/skills. Candidates should be chosen due to the relevance of their skills to a team goal. Step 3: Place selected candidates in positions compatible with their roles (strengths). Compatibility is commitment to achieve the team goal. Step 4: Decide on team leadership style. Team leadership style is informed by the nature of the team, by an audit of team members. Robert Greene Teambuilding Model has seven steps. Step 1: Unite team members around a cause. Something inspirational like defeat an opponent. Step 2: Keep belies of team members full. If people feel exploited, selfishness triggers. Step 3: The team leader should lead from the front. Take the cause as seriously as s/he would like team members to. Step 4: Tap into the ch’i – the energy that lives in every living thing. Tapping into the ch’i motivates team members. Step 5: Mix harshness and kindness. Harshness comes through high performance standards that few can reach. Kindness is the tactic used to inspire people to perform to high performance standards. Step 6: Build the group myth. How the team prefers to be known. We are unbeatable team or brutal team. The team leader should cement mythical identity. Step 7: Be ruthless with grumblers. To ensure that bad apples do not contaminate and demotivate the team, deal with them immediately.

Sy Mokadi Teambuilding Model has seven steps. These steps outline the teambuilding responsibilities of a team leader. Step 1: Introduce employees to the core business. Core business is the goal an enterprise exists to pursue. Step 2: Create enabling environment. Environment characterized by amongst others, information-sharing, which leads to trust-based relationships. Trust-based relationships inspire team members to stick it out together. Step 3: Inculcate interdependence through independence. Interdependence without independent and diverse views is cultic, suppressive and non-inspirational. Step 4: Sell benefits of team membership. Of what benefit is a team to the whole team and to individual team members? Step 5: Build team temperament. Team temperament is psychological and competence character. It enables a team to be resilient and withstand adversities. Step 6: Embrace change. Make a team adaptive. Prone to introduce change, adapt to prevailing change and /or anticipate imminent change and prepare in advance to adapt. Step 7: Create culture of discipline. Without discipline there is neither a team nor consistency of purpose. This is why John Maxwell says that talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. There is plenty of movement, but you never know if it is going forward, backwards, or sideways.

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