Thursday, March 9, 2006

Weak leadership undermines teamwork

Business Times p.B3
Thursday, March 09, 2006

Neil Isford, VP of e-Business, IBM, believes that "there's power in bringing people together instead of dispersing them."

Leaders are enjoined to mind their teams. Internal conflicts, lack of trust, uncoordinated efforts, focus on personal interests and lack of participation can be traced to heavy-handed and insincere leadership and weak team-leadership skills. A team is a microcosm of the entire organization it belongs and an organization is no better than the way its teams work together.

Business Week once asked on their cover story: “If teamwork produces such good results, why haven’t more organizations tried it?” Many so-called teams are really just collections of individuals. Establishing a really participative environment requires leadership skills and walking the talk.

Many leaders think that you simply announce new programs, dangle the carrot and expect members of their team to work. They look for quick results, but what they don’t get is lasting results. Giving people organizational tools such programs or thrusts, committees and policies doesn’t create teamwork anymore than blueprints and building supplies can create a house. Skilled and committed leaders and builders are needed.

Many team leaders have never experienced the power of effective teamwork. To compensate, they seek personal loyalty, rather than loyalty to the customers and the organization.

Signs of weak team skills are often subtle and insidiously linked to other problems of the organization, not to mention the personal value system of the leader and his personal agenda.

Jim Clemmer and Art McNeil identified some common symptoms of team failure as:

· Ineffective meetings. Somebody once said that “many poorly run group sessions are a meeting of the bored.” A meeting is a microcosm of the team. Meetings mirror how well the team is functioning.

“A meeting is the ultimate catalyst to people power, an opportunity to bring different viewpoints together, exploit diversity for the good of the group, establish strategies, and obtain commitment to action.”

Andrew Grove, former president of Intel, says “the output of a manager is the output of the various organizations under his control and influence.”

Educator Harry Overstreet says “the very essence in all power to influence lies in getting the other person to participate. The mind that can do that has a powerful leverage on his human world.”

· Technomanagement. This is a matter of manipulation versus participation. “For many leaders teamwork means asking for participation in a decision that’s already been made. Accompanying this attitude is usually a thinly disguised contempt for the ideas of others, especially from so-called “unqualified” sources.

“Another symptom is the ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ approach. Technoleaders too often see team approaches as techniques to be exploited rather than skills to be developed. Rosabeth Moss Kanter calls this approach ‘where the top orders the middle to be participative to the bottom.’

“Shooting the messenger’ is also cause for concern. This occurs when visible or vocal team members are routinely shot down (or quietly kneecapped) for contributing divergent views or unpopular information.

“When ‘grunt’ work is all an organization delegates, team effectiveness suffers. It is difficult to empower a team by handing them only other people’s dirty work.,”

· Loss of vision and abdication. Poor team leadership skills are often compounded by the absence of vision within the organization. “Groups that meet by rote with no purpose is moribund. When an organization loses sight of its reason for being, it becomes deathlike or bureaucratic. Real teamwork is sparked by shared purpose.

“Another cause of team failure is ‘abdication.’ Sometimes, in a futile attempt to encourage participation, unskilled leaving minority views and weaker team members unprotected. Their lack of skill invokes ‘jungle law,’ which allows group members to attack each other and play politics. The result—bruised and battered individuals and occasionally a clique. Inevitably, unhealthy competition displaces cooperation and politics replace performance.”

To add my own, when a leader is so focused on dangling “rewards and citations” at the end of day, the team concentrates on earning brownie cookies rather than becoming brownies, on counting time rather than making the best of time, on apple polishing rather than doing real work and working with the whole team.

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