When it comes to teams, the development is more important than the outcome

Written by Alistair Shepherd on 6 April 2018 in Opinion
Opinion

Alistair Shepherd drives the point home - a great working culture allows great teams to flourish. 

The modern workplace has transformed beyond recognition. In order to accommodate the ever-changing needs of employees and attract an even more diverse talent pool, companies are locked in a perks arms race with benefits like remote working and unlimited holiday policies.

This is increasingly seen as the bare minimum for keeping employees happy and engaged. In reality, however, it’s having the opposite effect. According to a recent study from Gallup, 85% of employees worldwide are not engaged or actively disengaged at work.

To understand the ramifications of a poorly curated company culture we need only look to 1998, when German automaker Daimler-Benz purchased US-run Chrysler for a staggering $36bn - it was one of the largest industrial mergers ever seen. Cultural differences quickly reared their head however, and in 2007 a once promising relationship ended in a messy corporate divorce.

The red flags were immediately apparent to anyone who cared to look. Whilst Daimler maintained a strict hierarchical structure, Chrysler encouraged an egalitarian approach to management.

While the Chrysler executives preferred a fast-paced trial and error approach, their Daimler counterparts valued precise plans and detailed implementation. Whether you are merging with a competitor, making a new hire or even simply engaging in the day-to-day to management of your team, company culture can quickly devolve, leading to substantial consequences.

So how do we avoid such a catastrophe?

Well, when it comes to teams, companies are often guilty of focusing on individual outcomes, rather than the development of the team as its own organism. The importance of team fit can’t be understated. Almost half of an employee’s success in the first 18 months on the job can be attributed to how they fit in on a personal level with others in the organisation.

As a society we are deeply preoccupied with tests; we like to measure intelligence, attainment, attendance and commitment, slap a number on each and rank people accordingly. In a business, does boiling down an employee’s toil, sweat and tears to a point in time engagement score or performance rating sound like the best way to motivate a workforce?

Almost half of an employee’s success in the first 18 months on the job can be attributed to how they fit in on a personal level with others in the organisation.

Absolutely not, and with fewer than 30% of organisations believing current measurement processes do not drive motivation or engagement at all, this process is ripe for disruption. At the foundational level, we must shift the focus from measurement (individual scoring) to development (coaching).

Just as a good teacher focuses on the progress of a student rather than the final grade, company, HR and L&D leaders need to work on and facilitate the ongoing improvement of teams to improve performance and engagement.

This requires a shift in how we look at personnel management, starting by ensuring teams are building solid foundations to work from. A team needs a clearly defined purpose, set of values & goals, and the right tools to achieve them.

Purpose

Teams need a shared purpose. In fact, it’s the very definition of a team; leaders need to take an active role in communicating their company’s defined purpose with their employees and helping their teams create their own meaningful purpose that will lead them in the same direction.

At the beginning of the Daimler-Chrysler merger, Daimler gave Chrysler the freedom to do what they had always done, to operate traditionally. Needless to say, this didn’t last long, and as the two management teams continued to clash, Daimler took a draconian top-down approach to the goals of the two companies, throwing any notions of synergy between the two to the wayside.

Creating a shared sense of meaning and purpose within a team is not only essential to each team member, it also translates into the growth of the company. Without a clearly defined purpose it’s difficult to steer a group of people in the same direction.

Values and goals

Once you’ve defined your purpose, you need to define your values and goals. Teams with high values alignment perform 1.9 times better than less aligned teams. They have demonstrably lower attrition rates and report greater satisfaction.

Leaders also need to improve the way they set and execute goals, aligning goals and outcomes to the team’s values, can make them more motivating and achievable. Well-defined goals sharpen focus and lift a team’s energy levels.


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Teams which are then also able to measure their progress towards these goals are likely to have higher rates of motivation and success. Accountability can improve too if team members can see how their individual efforts contribute to the team’s and wider company’s progress.

Leverage new technologies

Do employees get excited about a new ping pong table in the office?

Sure they do, but what they want more than anything is the opportunity to develop. This becomes clear clear once you consider the results from a recent Gallup report that found that 87% of millennials highlighted professional development and career growth as very important to them.

It is no secret that the half-life of skills has declined rapidly in the 21st century. For the modern worker to keep pace, their skills must be updated, augmented and even discarded on a regular basis. The ‘static’ career of the 20th century is over, and HR organisations must facilitate learning experiences that employees can engage in quickly and on their own terms.

Ongoing career development isn’t simply a ‘perk’, it is in fact a necessary component required to facilitate longevity in a career. L&D professionals are recognising this shift, but need the support of new tools to help facilitate new ways of learning that fit alongside day to day work.

Coaching, for example, has often been limited to members of the c-suite or senior management. With new developments in tech however, such as AI-powered chatbots, leaders can offer teams digitised coaching and democratise team development in a completely new way.

So we don’t need a ping pong table in the office (although it’s often great to have one), but we do need a team culture with a clear purpose that offers the right tools to collaborate - that is, if we want our workforce to remain happy, motivated and productive.

 

About the author

Alistair Shepherd is founder of Saberr.

 

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