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When I present team-building programmes, I ask audience members to rank their organisation’s greatest assets. They invariably place their staff and teamwork near the top of their list.
Most organisations do a substantial amount of training. However, how many implement teamwork training? How many train their people so that they can develop a mind for teamwork? Many try to promote spirit by using social occasions or team building sessions. Admittedly, these are elements of teamwork, but I suspect organisations could do a lot more analysis and specific training in the teamwork domain. Teamwork is one of the essential elements that accelerate the change from surviving to thriving. The outcome of teamwork is expressed when team members provide “want to” teamwork as opposed to “have to” teamwork. Team members are trustworthy, trusting and respectful. They collaborate with each other to get things done on time and within budget.
If mental toughness can improve individual performance, and it seems it can, will it do the same for team performance? What would the accumulated benefit be if the individuals in an entire team developed a mind for teamwork? Use a rugby team as an example. What would the improvement be if each member of the team embarked on boosting their mental toughness by around five percent over a defined, strategic period? Clearly, there is a potential cumulative progression of 75%. This is without the exponential benefits of synergy and spirit development derived from team members becoming aware of their advancement.
Improvement in performance is dependent on many factors; one of these is the willingness of the team leaders to acknowledge mental toughness as a factor of boosted performance. My experience has taught me that several sport coaches and business managers recognise the need to develop mental toughness in their team members, yet most want a quick-fix solution with immediate, miracle benefits. Coaches tend to overrate their own abilities to implement mental toughness interventions and can be irrational about the choice of professionals they select to help them.
The Kamp Staaldraad intervention for the 2003 Springbok rugby team was a result of an irrational choice of supplier to implement a teamwork and mental toughness programme. It was implemented as a part of the team’s preparation for the Rugby World Cup. Obviously, this intervention was intended to develop mental toughness; however, it failed dismally for many reasons. For instance, the content was imported from a pre-democratic South African police context, which meant that it disregarded the Springbok team’s diversity and cultural dynamic. In addition, the implementation took a quick-fix approach that totally ignored the fundamentals of the process, and the content did not adhere to psychologically acceptable principles, nor did it conform to generally acceptable ethics and values.
Unfortunately, Kamp Staaldraad created negative publicity that undervalued mental toughness development programmes in sport and business. When introducing mental toughness development, the challenge is to ensure that sport leaders or business executives understand that such progression needs to be specific to context and that it should be process-driven. Simply using a once-off, generic team-building or psychological skills programme to develop mental toughness could be compared with using an athletics training regime of running up mountains to improve an athlete’s speed. This may obliquely improve the athlete’s pace, but it’s not specific to the needs of agility development. Programmes need to be specific and geared to the individual and the context.
Consider the All Blacks rugby team over the period of their consecutive Rugby World Cup wins and the contribution that teamwork made to their success. Teamwork may not have been at the top of their list, but as my audience members say, it sat near the top. For example, in their organisational planning, the All Blacks balanced a mix of old heads and young legs. Additionally, they made a deliberate effort to get the management team and operations team to work together, encouraging them to intuitively pick up any slack in the team as it occurred. This enabled them to operate, when necessary, beyond their personal roles and responsibilities in their preparation and in operations, ensuring they achieved their outcomes, and ultimately, they achieved their intention.
At this stage, I want to critically reflect on the benefits of having a leader and people with a mind for teamwork. The most common benefit is a synergistic outcome. This means the outcome produced is greater than the sum of its parts. Hypothetically, when you add up the contribution of say a fifteen-member team, the result should be greater than the sum of the fifteen people’s contribution. Let us say it is sixteen or more. If they achieve this superior outcome, it means they created synergy. Does this imply that everyone in the team produces a little more? Or could one or two have produced more? Or is it that the composition of the team was carefully engineered so that the individuals’ contributions were complementary, like the old heads and young legs example in the All Blacks team?
An excellent demonstration of synergy was provided by the Irish rugby team in their historic first win against the Springboks on South African soil at Newlands on 11th June 2016. The Irish fielded an under-strength team due to injuries. Their disadvantage was compounded when they were reduced to fourteen players for sixty minutes and further condensed to thirteen for ten minutes of this period, courtesy of red and yellow cards. Yet, despite have fewer players on the field, they produced a performance that exceeded that of their more fancied opponents’ full strength side.
The most illustrative depiction of synergy outside rugby teams that I can think of is an orchestra. In this instance, the synergistic teamwork outcome is a beautiful-sounding musical piece.
My reflection on teamwork also brings entropy to mind. This is a loss of anticipated outcome. By entropy, I mean the sum of fifteen could end up as fourteen or fewer. This could occur because of a host of reasons, including poor leadership, insufficient management, a lack of clear accountability and responsibility, insufficient skills, infighting, social loafing, underestimating the opposition, jealousy, corridor conferences and the informal organisation becoming stronger than the formal organisation. The downside of entropy is as significant as the upside of synergy.
I propose that creating synergy and the elimination of entropy will be achieved if all people in a team developed a mind for teamwork. This means they did what they said they would, when they said they would do it, in the way they said they would do it. Then the planned outcome for the team will be achieved and probably a little more.
I would like to propose that the following symbolizes a mind for teamwork:
- The team produces more collectively than the sum of the individuals
- Team members drive a “me” and a “we” agenda
- In times of high demand team members respond with: “I’ll do it”
- Team members collaborate with each other to do things on time within budget – like weaving a rope the team gets stronger as they work together
Finally, I want to make the claim that getting talented people is very easy; getting them to work together and according to the team intention is very tough.