Demystifying the Idea of Great Teaming

OPINION -Rajesh Nair

‘Great team!’ If you scour reading material related to any field in life – be it sports, business, politics or startups – one common theme you would come across is the success attributed to a ‘great team.’ We often link these comments to the ‘magnanimity’ of a ‘star’ who gives ‘undue credit’ to his/her team, while he/she may be the real reason which made the difference. This is also because we are conditioned to look for individual excellence and admire people who have achieved it. But more often than not you get impressed by the beauty of collective action producing exemplary success, underscoring the role everyone had played in achieving it through their sundry actions.

While it seems logical that a team should ideally comprise similar people, it is often not the best approach, says Rajesh Nair

‘Teaming’ as a management subject has been much discussed and there are several books on it. These seminal works attempt to provide you frameworks and highlight some of the common pitfalls of building teams. But like all management topics, each of them is contextual. What suits Peter need not neccessarily suit Pathrose. This philosophy, for some, are a set of rules which govern their behaviour or actions when it comes to teaming while for some others, they become anecdotes which serendipitously tell them what to do. What I explain below are more of the latter, some interesting themes I have noticed and that lent colour to my lens.

A Team is Not a Herd of Similar People
While it seems logical that a team should ideally comprise similar people, it is often not the best approach. Diversity of people in the team is important to get fresh ideas, fresh ways of thinking and the ability for, as the cliché goes, ‘think out-of-the-box’. Yes, we do look for responses that align with ‘our way of thinking’ in interviews. A great answer was the one that I had premeditated not because it was an entirely great idea but something not on my shelf. Research in recent times has also proved that gender diversity is another factor which brings in great value. The inherent competencies women leaders display help bring in a fortune in terms of great ideas.

A Team is Not a Solar System
It is not like a sun with multiple planets revolving around it in their orbits. It has to be like a constellation of stars. Each of them shines differently. Each situation needs leadership having different skill sets and orientation. A well-coordinated team will have members leveraging their peculiarities and strengths, and yet moving in unison towards the common direction. What better example than the performance of the German soccer team which won the last World Cup! Just when the defence of the opposing team ‘marks’ a ‘star’ another ‘star’ will emerge shining with a different approach.

A Team is Not a Pack of Gunslingers
Individual glory and ‘fastest draw’ deciding success may be things one gets to see only in Western action flicks. In real life, collective focus and distributed leadership are the aspects which help win many a situation. Great times are those when the members publicly commit to the team objectively, downplaying even their own interests. Collective discussions always throw up multifarious scenarios and this is necessary for evolving a well-knit plan which envisages and evaluates different courses of action. Internal conflicts are not always a deterrent and idea-based conflicts are even a necessity. The team needs ideological conflicts which are all about debating ideas and concepts and not engaging in personality-based or mean-spirited attacks.

A Team Needs a Larger Purpose
A collective dream has the power to enthuse the team members and infuse energy in them. Sometimes, the purpose is so strong that even the negative minds in the team also feel like putting in their efforts. This comes from the ‘trust’ that everyone is connected by a larger vision and purpose. It is quite surprising how a common purpose could often bring together people with diverse ideas, ethos and experiences. It also brings in commitment and clarity of purpose.

A Team Needs a Win-Win Mindset
The cornerstone of a great team’s ethos is the ability to have a shared sense of victory and celebrate each other’s success. One of the virtues our schooling system needs to instill in children is this habit of appreciating another person’s success and the team’s victory. It is not generosity and altruism that should prompt us to compliment a fellow team member. Rather, the genuine interest in the accomplishment and how that made a difference to the team’s effort in achieving its goal should lead us to appreciating it.

A Team Needs to Nurture Creativity
To put it politely, the future is uncertain. We have no clues whatsoever about the changes that will wilt our resolves, scrap our well-laid plans and trash the best of strategies. Hence, it is important to constantly churn out new ideas and even encourage radical ideas. Our education system constantly instills in us a ‘fear of making mistakes’. We are afraid of making mistakes, sounding silly or suggesting a ‘ridiculous idea.’ A pat on the back and having a hearty laugh at the idea that failed goes a long way in sending the message that ‘it is safe to discuss ideas here!’ A culture like that lends emotional confidence to the members of the team.

The ability to build great teams is also one of the key differentiators when we analyse people who were successful and those who squandered great opportunities. Team or organisational structure has to facilitate distribution of work, integration of ideas and constant collective quest to seek success. It always pays to remember that you are only as good as the team you are part of!

(The author is Executive Director-Markets, Kerala & Tamil Nadu, EY and President, TiE Kerala)