Teamwork. That seems to be the buzzword of 2013, and every motivational and business speaker talks about the importance of your team and the interaction between its members. But a team of people in and of itself isn’t always going to help you achieve results quickly or more successfully if they don’t work well together, or if one or two members don’t mesh well with the rest.
I’ll give you an example from our own experience here at AIS Solutions. Quite early in our history we had hired a bookkeeper who was fabulous in her job. She was knowledgeable, efficient, and accurate. Probably one of our best bookkeepers and she knew it. However, her personality didn’t mesh with the other members of our team, and collaborating with her on projects and clients was always a challenge. No one else wanted to work with her, and there was very little harmony when she became involved. When we finally accepted the realization that we had to let her go, she was stunned. Her immediate reaction was “How can you let me go, I’m your best bookkeeper?” It was never a personal affront, or that she was a bad person, she just wasn’t the right person for our team at the time. The change in our environment was immediate upon her departure. The atmosphere in the office improved significantly, as did productivity and collaboration. It also reaffirmed to our remaining team members that we don’t just talk about team, but that it does mean something.
Dr. Jack Zenger, a leadership development expert and head of Zenger Folkman, contributed an article to Forbes at the end of 2012 entitled The Power of Teams: A Lesson In Leadership From A Siberian Husky. It tells the story of how one of the children of Zenger Folkman co-founder Dr. Joe Folkman wished for a dog one Christmas – specifically, a Siberian husky. Dr. Folkman obliged and the family took in a puppy that his son named Kestler; however, after some time, Dr. Folkman came to realize the dog just wasn’t working out, and decided to give him away to a friend named Racer, who already owned five huskies and wanted a sixth for his dog sled team.
This decision ended up becoming an unexpected lesson in teamwork for Dr. Folkman. From the article:
“After a few months of training, Racer invited us to go on a dog sled ride to see Kestler in action. It’s hard to describe how excited the dogs were about getting their harnesses on and being tied to the sleigh. I remember being pulled by horses on a wagon, and for them it was obviously work. But the level of excitement was totally different for these dogs. The dogs took off and I wasn’t prepared for the jolt. As they began running, it was almost like the jerk of a fast car. As we rode I stared in amazement at my “dumb dog.” There he was, between the two lead dogs! The dog I could never control was working in perfect unison with the other dogs on the team. He listened, he pulled, and he enjoyed working together with his team. These dogs can pull a sled for 20 miles, and they love every minute of their job.”
Huskies are often the stereotypical choice when one thinks of sled dogs, but few people realize the deeper implications of a story like this and how it can connect to their own daily efforts with members of their own respective teams. Dr. Zenger goes on to say:
“Have you ever been part of a great team? A team that utilized your individual strengths and caused your performance to improve? A team where productivity increased just to keep up with the other team members? A team where you love coming to work and every day is an exciting adventure?
In contrast, have you ever been a part of the Team From Hades? This is the team nobody wants to be a part of and is full of conflict, disagreements and discontent. Most people know and have experienced the difference. The contrast is huge.”
“Sometimes, just like Joe’s dog Kestler, you will never recognize an employee’s full potential until they are placed in the right area with the right people. It is the responsibility (and the opportunity) of all leaders to cultivate a collaborative environment in which team members can flourish.”
These excerpts speak volumes about the value of a great team. As a leader, if you put an employee with people they won’t work well with or even get along with, you hurt their chances of growth and prosperity as much as you hurt the ability of the group itself to tend to their responsibilities. One crack in the system and the whole thing can fall apart.
However, as Kestler and his fellow sled dogs demonstrate, put an employee with a group of people that they mesh well with and you’ve given them the chance to grow and nurture their skills and abilities in the right environment and with the right people – the right team. While his time with Dr. Folkman and his family did not work out as hoped and expected, it lead to Kestler ending up with a group with which he truly belonged that allowed him to, to paraphrase Dr. Zenger, show his full potential. Just as in the above example, we found out that the employee we let go is so much happier in her new position, as she is now with the right team.
If you’re in a leadership position, this article can give you an excellent perspective on the importance of creating and managing an effective team that works well together. It can help you understand just how much it matters when the right people collaborate in any setting.
Do you pay close attention to where you place your team members? Do you have any success stories on how your leadership played a crucial role in putting together a group that helped your company, as well as each other, grow? Your stories are welcome, so be sure to let us know and leave a comment!