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Much of any organisation's daily activities and people interactions occur within teams. Teams provide the primary means for getting work done and attaining organisational objectives. Team efficiency thus has a significant impact on the performance and the competitiveness of any company. Yet many brilliant individuals have not developed the capacity to work with others in teams.

Great individuals do not equal great teams.
In an effort to improve team effectiveness, team-building initiatives often fall short of management expectations. Decisions taken at these workshops never go beyond a few mechanical meetings. Some generate a quick spurt of energy while others produce permanent fixtures that do not fulfill their original goals or add any value. Frankly, many team building efforts end up destroying value rather than creating it.

So why does team building fail?

  • Participants see it as a nice break away from the office routine:
  • The process is in many cases too theoretical and formalised:
  • There is a premature focus on key issues like the vision and the mission;
  • People focus on semantics and become too analytical about issues that should potentially focus and energise the team;
  • The issue of trust within teams is never properly addressed;
  • The outcomes get filed and not utilised; and
  • Structures are not built around the strategy but around people.

Avoiding such failures is possible but requires a whole new way of looking at team effectiveness. Executives should answer the following question: what is it that we want to achieve with team building? Should it be a fun filled event with some opportunity to focus on priorities and action plans or should the focus be on building the capacity of employees to comprehend the underlying principles of synergy? This will foster a sense of interdependence among group members to search for more effective ways of working through problems inherent to the team.

The word synergy is derived from the Greek word "synergos" which means "working together". In business, synergy refers to the ability of individuals or teams to work together with the result of creating greater value than they would have working alone. Pursuing the principles of synergy has the potential to contribute to the bottom line of large companies. When synergy is well managed, it can be a blessing, creating additional value with existing resources. When it is poorly managed, it can undermine confidence and erode trust within teams, not only among business units, but also business units and their corporate head office. But what are these principles of synergy that teams need to pursue and what is the return on investment or additional value if they are well managed?

There are six principles of synergy, and if well managed, each has a return on investment or some form of a positive derivative:

  • Territorial harmony gives confidence and a home ground advantage:
  • Dedication of individual strengths provides clear roles and leadership;
  • Rituals strengthen the pack. secure group cohesion and team spirit:
  • Trusting relationships strengthens loyalty and support;
  • Sense of purpose guarantees focus and energy; and
  • Team maintenance provides continuous learning and a culture of improvement.

There is no better example than in nature where animals that live in prides, herds and packs model the principles of synergy.

Territorial harmony is the ability of the team to gain a competitive advantage from the territory in which they operate.

Teams can achieve this by:

  • Gaining knowledge and understanding of the territory that is uniquely theirs;
  • Networking and building alliances with key individuals or teams that share the same territory and also those who have been disregarded in the past; and
  • Creating a large enough support base to ensure abundant support that will enhance the team's competitive advantage.

Dedication of individual strengths is attained by focusing on the unique skills, knowledge, experience, perspectives, networks and resources that different individuals bring to the team. The emphasis should be on individuals who dedicate their strengths. There is a huge difference between simply contributing skills and knowledge to the complete dedication of an individual's strengths to a team.We often neglect the importance of individual skill and its contribution to the overall competence of the team. Proper world class skills at an individual level play a significant role in improving the result and the overall success rate of the team.

There must also be an opportunity to assess the 'internal enemies' that hinder the effectiveness of the team. Examples of internal enemies are:

  • Politics:
  • Sub groupings; and
  • Culture.

So many wonderful initiatives or good intentions go astray because of such internal enemies.

Rituals strengthen the pack in any team. There must be a range of deliberate, planned and well managed rituals that have the potential to strengthen the pack:
  • Conflict rituals have the potential to bond and strengthen a team. If conflict is externally focused it has the capacity to restore and intensify team spirit. Conflict that has to do with the 'survival of the team' is a strong bonding ritual that enhances team learning, focuses energy and elevates team spirit. If managed incorrectly, it has the potential to weaken the team dramatically.
  • Bonding rituals are those deliberate efforts to create a united front against common enemies. It might be to tackle a daunting task. a project or obligation. It is at such rituals where 'mutual grooming' provides an opportunity for team members to get to know one another: and
  • Communication rituals have the potential to strengthen the pack. Efforts to inform one another as well as the time spent together create valuable opportunities for team members to share thoughts and become acquainted.

Trusting relationships Start at the individual's own level of trustworthiness. The political landscape in S.A. did not contribute to stable trust relationships in business teams.

Sense of purpose comes from spending time on strategic issues.

Mission defines a fundamental and unique purpose. It is a statement that specifies the fundamental reason why we exist and what sets this team apart from others.

Mission components should include:

  • The target customer and market;
  • Identified products and services:
  • Specified geographic domain (territory):
  • Expressed commitment to survival and growth; and
  • The team's desired image.

The above provides a foundation and framework for priorities, strategies and plans.

Vision is a memory of the future that is stronger than the past. Teams need to answer the following questions:

  • Do we dream big enough?
  • Do we believe we can do this?
  • Do we unconditionally want this vision to be realised?
  • Does it get us excited?
  • How can we make it practical?

Team maintenance arises from the deliberate efforts of teams to invest time in assessing their effectiveness and then equipping themselves with what is needed to achieve the team vision.

Teams can achieve this by focusing on:

  • Work priorities. Are we doing the right things? By using an assessment grid the team can assess impact and competence of each task or project to determine what tasks or projects should be continued and what tasks or projects should be stopped.
  • Reform work. What processes does the team need to improve? What can the team do smarter, faster, cheaper, better (quality) and what development is necessary? and
  • Structure around the strategy. A common mistake that is made is that structure is formed around people and their competence or lack thereof instead of what is necessary to support the strategy to achieve the vision.

These six principles should point the way for teams in their endeavours to be more cohesive, mutually supportive and achieving synergy in task accomplishment.

Such an approach could also help executives avoid wasting precious resources on team building programmes that are unlikely to provide a return on investment. Perhaps even more importantly, it could enable them to understand better where the true synergy opportunities lie in their organisations.

Niel Steinmann
People's Dynamic Development

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