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Focus also a major problem, especially where people have their own agendas

By Yvonne Fontyn : Specialist Writer

LACK of trust in superiors and colleagues is the main reason teamwork is not effective in SA companies, says industrial psychologist Niël Steinmann.

A survey conducted among 150 SA companies shows that 82% of staff rate a lack of trust as their worst or second-worst problem. says Steinmann. the director of People's Dynamic Development, a consultancy which uses African analogies to develop people and organisations.

Trust is eroded by a lack of effective and open communication; the historic relationships in SA; cultural issues, including a poor interpersonal understanding; poor perceptions of management initiatives and failure to "walk the talk".

"You have to do what you say you're going to do or you will lose staff trust," says Steinmann.

The second factor is weak task leadership, characterised by the "square table syndrome". "Decisions are shifted to the top of the table; rather cultivate a round table culture, where people take ownership of responsibilities."

Weak task leadership is the result of a lack of initiative and accountability, and failure to pursue and accept challenges — a resistance to getting down to work.

Third on the list is poor implementation. "South Africans are good starters but poor finishers. We keep on talking about the same things — they appear on agendas month after month. We need finishers in teams — people who are project-driven and energised by completion. Often the initiative is in the hands of one person and when he leaves, everything falls apart."

A lack of focus also contributes to teams failing: "Senior people often have their own agendas." This could be something like a saving on budget, which is advantageous for one person's department but not for the company as a whole.

Focus is lost when there are too many priorities — a characteristic especially of the manufacturing environment. "The organisation tries to run too many initiatives at once."

"Rather say we will do four or five things well this year — the things that will put us in business and keep us on line strategically."

Poor interpersonal skills are another factor. "This becomes apparent especially when there is a need to deal with conflict. Conflict polarises us, pushes us further away from each other."

People sometimes do not know what other team members' responsibilities are, and this makes teamwork difficult.

Too often there is no learning from mistakes: "Sit down and take stock; ask what works, what doesn't. We don't do this because we are so busy fighting fires."

Interpersonal chemistry — "our ability to use the diversity in the team to its full capacity" — plays a role.

False commitments — often characterised by high hopes which fade over time — are damaging, as is working in silos.

Perceived lack of support from management is the last factor.

The answer to team effectiveness lies in the six principles of Synergy, says Steinmann:

  • Territorial harmony.
    "Know your territory and use it to the full to create a home ground advantage. Spend time finding out who is our competition and why? Who are our allies? Who can open doors for us? How can we create a good support base?"

  • Dedication of individual strengths.
    "Use the right person for the right function."

  • Rituals to strengthen the pack.
    "Lions have vicious fights over food but also rituals that heal and strengthen the relationship straight away. Effective communication strengthens bonds. Deal with conflict immediately if the team's survival depends on it. Invest in bonding rituals."

  • A trusting relationship strengthens loyalty and support.
    "People often rely on their erroneous perceptions of others. Create dialogue so that people can get to know each other."

  • A sense of purpose guarantees focus and energy.
    "Wild dogs are effective hunters because when they hunt they are completely focused. Teams must have a sense of purpose and direction."

  • Team maintenance provides continuous learning and a culture of improvement.
    "Ideally, teams should be self-facilitating. Call time out to evaluate your progress. Make sure the things you do make a difference; ask, what can we do better?"

Steinmann spoke at a Knoures team effectiveness seminar.

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