Do Team Managers actually take Teamwork Seriously?
I run the risk of being controversial here by using the picture of an ostrich burying its head in the sand but the picture does, for me, signify the attitude that many team managers and senior leaders have towards teamwork. They know that there’s a lot they can do to develop their teams to their full potential but the many and varied ‘blocks’ to this happening are such that team development can be a very daunting prospect, even for some of the very best managers that I have worked with over 40 years. I would include myself in this cohort, as even with my strong belief for the need for team development, there were times where I decided that it wasn’t worth the effort and as such, I continued down the well worked path of focusing on working with individuals as opposed to spending time developing the team processes and behaviours as a whole. Let’s look at four key factors which cause team managers to shy away from putting the effort into developing their teams.
1. Firstly, many team managers and leaders do not have the requisite knowledge of team processes and team dynamics that is required to effectively coach and develop the team as a whole. They might have picked up some knowledge through a leadership or management development course (usually Tuckman’s, Forming, Storming model) but that is where it ends in many cases. Knowledge of the Performance Curve, creating Team development plans and Team Contracts, along with learning how to effectively coach the team is barely covered in these leadership programmes, and if they are, they tend to be covered in terms of theory only and very rarely in terms of practical application. This results in the essential basics of building high performance teams being either ‘glossed over’ at best or not even covered at all.
2. It is very common for senior line managers and senior leadership to be focused very much on activity and tasks with the result that the focus on team development is bypassed. Very little effective coaching from senior line managers is focused on supporting team managers to develop the performance of the team, with most focus being on how team managers manage the performance of the individuals within the team. That’s if any effective coaching happens at all. It is still very common for senior managers to ‘forget their roots,’ and resort to being very directive with the result that effective coaching of the team manager rarely happens as it should.
3. Many team managers fail to actively engage and influence their own senior managers and as such asking for time (and budget) to focus on developing the team either doesn’t happen or, if ask for, is refused. Team managers, if they are serious about wanting to fully develop their team, need to be able to influence their senior managers and stand up for what they believe in. They need to present a strong case for what benefits extra team development will bring to the team, the senior manager, and the organisation. Sadly, many team managers see this an extra chore and a ‘hassle’. It may be that the organisation’s culture isn’t as empowering as they would claim and team managers don’t have the authority to allocate money or time to development activities.
4. Many reward processes and schemes do not recognise ‘over achievement’. If the team hits 100% of objectives and targets achieved then great and this may extend to up to 105% but when this goes above this, then questions start to be raised as to how accurate the target or objective setting was in the first place. There may be some validity in this, but overall, this is the wrong way to look at this and the positives of achieving this level of performance should be celebrated and not negatively questioned. Many team managers are reluctant to ‘overachieve’ and would rather ‘scrape in’ at around the 100% mark so that the potential for greater targets in the next financial year or period are not considered. This is akin to the 100m sprint athlete being happy with 10.0 seconds personal best and not really looking to better this despite having to potential for 9.5 seconds. Unthinkable in serious athletics circles. Business teams need to have the same attitude.
So, as a team manager, if you are truly serious about developing your team, then take teamwork seriously by:
a. Learn more about teams by increasing your knowledge of teams, team processes and team dynamics.
b. Learn to manage your own line manager, particularly, if you need permission for time and budget in order to put team development interventions in place. Build a present a strong case for the development, outlining the overall benefits of the development for the team, the senior manager, and the organisation. Encourage your senior manager to coach, instead of always directing.
c. Prioritise. Don’t be the ‘hamster on the wheel’, scurrying around doing task after task, and not prioritising your activities. If you truly feel that development, and in this case, team development is important, then treat it as such. Don’t simply ‘bury your head in the sand’. Be strong.
d. Seriously look at your objectives and targets. Can you actually achieve more? Can you influence the organisations to put in place reward and recognition schemes that will truly encourage performance enhancement at both individual and team level?