Select Page

Starting a new team

I recently witnessed a guest house install a new kitchen and launch a breakfast service for their guests.  This involved hiring new staff members for the added kitchen duties. It only took a few weeks for conflict and mistrust to arise. Let’s just say money went missing and no one was willing to take responsibility, and team members started backbiting one another and blame-shifting when the service was not up to standard. It was clear that the new team members had not yet taken ownership of the vision of the business, and, at least some of them, were set on self-enrichment as their primary goal.

This made me ponder the question: how do we build cohesive, highly functional teams that are fully focused on the best outcomes for the business?

For a start, the leader, and subsequently the whole team, must come to the realisation that we all need each other to make this work.  We must believe that each one of us is essential to the success of the business.  This is a foreign concept to humans because we judge the importance of a person or position based on monetary value.  This immediately creates the false concept that those who earn more are more valuable to the success of the team than the rest.  The fact that we pay more for some people than others is totally irrelevant to their value in the organisation.  Especially in smaller businesses or business units the value of each person is at least the same for all members.  In fact, the smaller the unit, the more value is in the lower positions because of the reputational gains or losses that can be effected by more junior positions.

In a multinational corporation with 3,000 employees across a continent the reputational damage of a poorly cleaned reception area is almost insignificant in the bigger picture.  In our example of the guest house, the impact of a dirty plate or a dead cockroach in a cup will have a significant impact on the eventual success of the business.  Even in the large company, the seemingly small poor delivery easily becomes a culture and very soon turns into a systemic cancer that becomes part of the very fibre of an organisation. It strangles it into mediocrity over time – an untreatable infection the seems impossible to root out.  And, it almost is.  Almost.  But not if we apply the same small business principles consistently over time. 

How do we prevent this?  The team leader must get everyone to agree that each one in the team is important.  Equally important.  When the dishwasher does something it affects all of us because our livelihood depends on the success of the business.  If each one of us do our part with excellence we will have an excellent business that will prosper and grow and create a better future for all of us.  But, if one of us perform below standard it will eventually sabotage the efforts of the rest of us, and we will all suffer.  Each one of us must take responsibility for everything around us.  Your job is my job and my job is your job if we are to be successful as a team.

You, and your job, are important to us as a business unit and to our collective success.  So each one of us deserves the same respect and support and help and encouragement and feedback, etc.  Without lying to someone or just blowing smoke, we should be authentic when we say thank you and really acknowledge that the input of a team member has just improved our chances at success and fulfilment.

People are not used to this approach and it will take a lot of effort from the leader in the team to coach and demonstrate this.  We have to set the example on a continual basis.  When something does not go according to plan it is not helpful to attack an individual for missing an objective.  This person usually feels like a failure deserving of retribution already.  Use every opportunity to leverage the team into a stronger position.  Focus on what we can learn from this, how we can prevent it, or how we can do it better next time.  Failure of an individual is to be accepted as a failure of the team.  This does not mean that we condone mediocrity.  The opposite is actually true.  We take missing an objective so seriously that we all apply our skillsets to address it and get better as a team.  This creates high performance environments.  It focuses everyone’s attention on preventing failures and anticipating outcomes to get us all to success.  Any problem is approached with an attitude that this team was handpicked and that we, collectively, has what it takes to make it prosper.

In such an environment we will become increasingly better and will outperform our opposition because we compete against the best (ourselves) and strive to be better every day.

Some days we will have bad days, but in a team that respects and care for each other and the outcome of the business, we will get up enthusiastically and know that we can do better and give it our best shot tomorrow. 

Nelson Mandela said: “I do not fail.  I either win, or I learn.”