Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Wow, a Real Team!

Every once in a while I come in contact with a genuine, no-b.s. TEAM. It’s rare. Most of the time what masquerades for “teams” in organizations is a hodge-podge of risk-averse conforming little bureaucracies, or pathologically politicized battle stations sprinkled with multiple hidden agendas, or superficial collections of individuals who feel little connection with one another other than what their job demands. And then there’s DMB/Highlands Group, a successful boutique land development firm which last week asked me to lead a discussion about strategy and leadership with the top ten executives and partners. Forget the particulars of what we discussed; the important thing is that as we discussed them, I realized that—wonder of wonders—I was talking to a real team! How do I know? Here’s the litmus test that I use to determine whether any so-called “team” is the real deal rather than just standard lip-service. I offer five simple criteria (you can use them to rate your own team): 1. Communality: There is a clarity, consensus and passion among all team members about the team’s vision, dream, cause, philosophy, values, culture, strategic agenda, and primary goals. For obvious reasons, genuine collaboration is much easier when communality exists. For less obvious reasons--when communality exists, conflict within the team is usually healthy because people argue about the best and most innovative means to reach the common ends. When communality is low, conflict is often dysfunctional because there’s no consensus about the overarching issues and desired endpoints. 2. Accessibility: Any team member can quickly and seamlessly access whoever on the team, or whatever team-relevant information (financial, customer, regulatory, etc.) that he or she needs to accomplish team work. Organizational and interpersonal barriers to connectivity are kept to a minimum. 3. Transparency: The team spirit is one of candor and trust. It’s either-or: If you’re a team member, do you trust your colleagues? Can you count on them? Is everyone open and forthright with each other? Are opaque, secretive communications and information simply not tolerated within the team? 4. Harmony: This one sounds soft, but it’s really important. Do the team members care about each other as individual people? Do they respect each other? Do they sincerely enjoy working together? 5. Meritocracy: At the end of the day, the team has to be focused on achieving high, and ideally exceptional goals, and in the same spirit, rewards (both individual- and team-based) have to be contingent on performance. The ultimate value of communality, accessibility, transparency and harmony is that they provide the paths and fuel for high performance. A team exists to accomplish something, to win something, to break through something, or to leave a legacy about something—and in a real team everyone on the team holds himself or herself accountable for contributing to that cause. No-nonsense, unapologetic and unabashed meritocracy must permeate the team’s soul. As the Highlands executive team worked with me, it became pretty obvious that it met these five criteria. Please don’t ask me how I knew. I’m not psychic, but the team “vibe” was crystal clear. In fact, I asked the team members point blank to evaluate their team on these criteria; unsurprisingly, the scores they gave on each criterion were very high. One last thing: We talked about the critical importance of “fit.” If your team is truly marked by high levels of communality, accessibility, transparency, harmony, and meritocracy, you don’t want to ruin it by inviting someone who doesn’t “fit” those attributes to join the team, regardless of their skills, organizational position, or resume. Believe me, even one “mis-fit” can contaminate a great team, and if you see that happening, make sure to get rid of such people as quickly as possible. Remember, in a real team that fits the five criteria, you want to make sure that anyone who joins it personally fits those criteria too. And if your current “group” doesn’t meet the criteria of a real team, then start developing a real team using the building blocks of communality, accessibility, transparency, harmony and meritocracy—and then selectively admit only those who might well fit the five criteria, in addition to whatever useful competencies and resources they bring to the table.


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