When I present team building programmes I ask audience members to rank their organization’s greatest assets. They invariably place their staff and teamwork near the top of their list.
Consider the All Blacks’ rugby team over the period of their consecutive Rugby World Cup wins and the contribution 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 organizational 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 take 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 synergy. 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’s say it’s 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 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 reduced to thirteen players for ten minutes of this period; Courtesy of red and yellow cards. Yet, despite have less 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, 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 the outcome of thirteen or less. This may 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 organization becoming stronger than the formal organization. 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.
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.
Dr Steve Harris. Motivational speaker, team building, conference speaker, keynote speaker