The “secret” to team work and team building lies in the possessive pronoun “our.”
WHEN WORK BECOMES “OURS”
When work becomes ours, obstacles become ours, and our successes are celebrated, people “naturally” become team members. But people — at work or in civic activities — usually need a catalyst, someone who says “our” and who involves others in making decisions and experiencing small successes until they, too, talk about “our” tasks and team.
TALKING ABOUT “WE”
The catalyst — leader or manager — begins by talking about what “we have to do,” and what “they want from us,” and is scrupulous in avoiding “I” and “my.” The catalyst asks, “What do you think? How should we approach this? How can we use ourselves best? Who has some ideas about how to solve this problem?” When people respond, the catalyst does not accept or reject, but instead asks others to build on the idea or suggestion, to embellish it out of their experiences and knowledge of the subject.
THE ROLE OF GAME-PLAYING … NONE
Such participation often is hard to get in that part of the world in which I live. Learned patterns of mistrust and caution in dealing with those in authority will not be overcome in a single Monday-morning meeting. Nor will the process be expedited much by taking people out of the office for a day or two of “team building,” playing games and being led, blindfolded, by others to “build trust and confidence.” (All this suggests that employees need to be “fixed” so that they will work harder, better, faster, and cheaper for their managers.)
Genuine participation, encouraged and rewarded, consistently and convincingly by the designated leader, is the only way to build effective work groups.
(This writer’s bias is for “work groups,” as teams always have an authoritarian component in the coach, captain, or manager. They tend to view people as expendable if they’re not productive, like athletes who get too old or lame to perform. Athletes are volunteers, employees aren’t! Most of us are economic conscripts, trading time and talent for money. Please don’t abuse us further by trying to motivate us!)
PATIENCE & PERSISTENCE
Developing effective work groups requires patience and persistence in acknowledging individual and collective contributions, recognizing and rewarding people at every opportunity, along with sincerity in expressing appreciation for anything done to support the group and its performance.
These things come from the heart, from belief in the value of co-workers. Few managers appear to have the commitment to their people and the discipline to do these things – which is why “team building exercises” become necessary. Unfortunately, there really is no substitute for a manager’s attention and appreciation.