Many managers tout the word “team,” but don’t really know how to bring their team together to work in unison. Contributing columnist Jeff Dearduff offers some insight on how to make teams work.

It’s the bottom of the ninth, with two outs, the score is tied and the home team has a runner on third. Here’s the pitch, it’s a high pop-up to deep short. The shortstop is back-peddling to make the catch, with his waving arms, saying “I got it.” The left fielder is on a dead sprint to the ball as well and “BAM,” the two players collide and fall to the ground, the ball rolling free. The runner scores and the home team wins.
We see similar things happen when football players from the same squad dive on a fumbled ball or basketball teammates fight for the rebound and the last second put-back at the buzzer. So many times, from the sidelines, we hear the coach yelling, “same team, fellas.”

In today’s competitive industry, we find that the workplace can create its own competition and can provide the arena where some folks feel that they need to be the star. In this scenario, the idea of TEAM is lost. As they say, “there is no ‘I’ in team, but there is a Me.” The ME thing is driving productivity, profits and people right into the loser’s bracket.

It still amazes me that you can bring a large number of people together under the same banner, place a mission, vision and company philosophy in front of them, explain that it takes everyone working together to be successful, and then, when you turn them loose on the job, you find out that they can’t play on the same field together without fussing and back-biting.

Many managers walk around the workplace talking team, but do they really understand what a team is? They tout that “together, everyone achieves more,” but do they really get it? The motivating posters are on the wall and the slogans are printed on the checks, but the display we see from those managers is usually contrary to the messages they’re trying to send.

Why do we see so much dissention across management and the general workforce? Could it be that many people feel that when they take someone else down, there is more personal gain? Maybe it’s the tight economy, the fear of being replaced or maybe it’s just old-fashioned competition? Who knows? Whatever it is, it’s ruining businesses and people’s personal lives, not to mention pushing customers to other providers.

How do we get a handle on this problem so that a business can be successful, retain its top-performing employees and its valuable customers? I believe it starts with a true leader who steps up and takes command of the bad situation. Maybe it’s the one who actually recognizes that the ground under their own feet is truly a mess, and they need to do something about it. It might be the person who looks at adversity and sees it as a positive challenge rather than a pain. It takes a very special person and a creative mission to turn a group of people around and operate as a team.

Changing the belief structure of an organization requires a strong will, a new set of rules, constant feedback and a regular review of the progress. Just saying “we’re a team” doesn’t do it. Warm and fuzzies always cool off if the belief is not there. Nicey-nice is lost when trust is in question.

The person who takes this on establishes the rules, remains transparent, builds trust in others of their own beliefs and displays a consistent demeanor of calm professionalism. As a result, they will have people follow them into the toughest battle or the biggest game.

One of the places that you can see a “team” really work is at the racecar track. In the heat of the battle, you see the crew chief (manager) directing the seven crew members (workforce) who jump over the wall to service the driver (customer). They jack up the car, replace four 75-lb. tires, pour in 22-gallons of fuel, clear the windshield and radiator screen, make an adjustment to the suspension and give the driver a swig of Red Bull, all inside of 16-17 seconds. If just one member of this team fails at their task, the total mission fails and the whole team loses, not just the person who bobbled.

If this same crew were to sabotage each other every time the driver comes in for service, the team would never contribute to a win. On the other hand, the driver could actually complete this same service all alone, but it would take much longer and he/she would eventually wear out physically and mentally. Eventually, that allusive win would never come.

In the workplace, we are seeing a time where people regularly sabotage each other, which causes all sorts of failures. Too many times, we also see “cowboys” who want to do it all themselves. This is scary, unproductive and dangerous to the business.

The magic combination of ideas and beliefs that deliver a solid team may be pretty tough to put in place, but when the correct elements do come together, the team will succeed and win. Team workforces, much like team sports, require cooperation and coordination from all individuals. That’s why I think they invented golf for those who won’t be part of the home team. Rah!