“A major reason capable people fail to advance is that they don’t work well with their colleagues.” – Lee Iacocca
Every day we hear or read about teamwork and its importance for business. We talk about it in conversations, blogs, and presentations. We are trained about it and/or participate in team-building activities very often. There is so much noise about it that some people may think it is overrated. Well, it is not.
Most people understand why teamwork is important for companies. Teamwork is also important for individuals that desire to advance their careers. And this importance is even more critical if the person wants to have a leadership role.
Some time ago I was working with the management group to put together the list of people for the first lean manufacturing training. This will be the team that will work on the lean manufacturing implementation. The general manager mentioned one name that caused a lot of hesitation. The reason for the discussion was that this person was notorious for his lack of teamwork. John (not his real name), worked for the company for over twenty years. He had more process experience and knowledge than most people. John is very reliable, he will come to work every day on time and will finish his projects successfully. He is also the guy that would volunteers for those tasks that nobody else wants. All these things make him a very good candidate for a supervisor position, even a future manager. The only thing that has been on the way for a promotion for years is his lack of teamwork.
Why teamwork is so important? Like children with their parents, team members learn from what they see from their leader. If the leader practice teamwork, the team will be driven to share the same behavior.
Team member’s interact more and better when they understand the relationship between roles. Understanding how their responsibilities interact with other members’ responsibilities facilitates teamwork. Knowing their impact on the output helps team members to understand and share vision and goals. Now, is not the individual contribution but the synergy created by mutual support.
Collaboration can help solve difficult problems or create innovative ways to do things. Brainstorming is good for the team to exchange ideas and come up with creative ways of doing things. By working together, teams can find solutions that work best. Team members will feel a great sense of accomplishment by finding those solutions. Cooperation, trust, and respect are built one step at the time.
Leadership positions are out of the future for people like John. Not being able to be examples of teamwork or drive teamwork is the roadblock for promotion. But not everything is lost, it takes time but it is possible to learn how to communicate effectively and be a part of the team. The following are some important characteristics of a good team member:
- Respect your coworkers, listen to their words. Practice tolerance when you don’t agree with their point of view. Make sure everyone has a chance to speak and be heard.
- Be honest and fair. Explain your point of view, use facts, keep the discussion professional but real. Make sure what you say and what you do are giving the same message. In other words, keep your verbal and nonverbal language on the same page. This limits confusion.
- Focus on the behavior or problem, not on the person. People become defensive when criticized. Keep the discussion focused on the task and the issues.
- Shares the load. A good team member does his or her fair share of the work. Be reliable, when you say you are going to do something, do it! There is a sense of equity and fairness in a good team member. This is important for team members’ collective motivation.
- Validate others’ contributions. Compliment team members on good ideas and suggestions. This makes them feel a part of the team and encourages future participation.
The list above is not a magical solution to be a better team member. You need to know what you lack and consciously work to improve it. It is about been aware of your weaknesses and practice, practice, practice.
As leaders, there are countless ways we influence our teams. As human beings, there are countless ways we can influence our teams. Leadership is a key element in continuous improvement initiatives. Those who can manage their emotions are likely to be more engaged in their work.
Our mood is different every day; and affects our energy level, positivism, and focus. As leaders, we cannot let our emotions control our actions. The workplace is full of opportunities to derail our continuous improvement efforts. Some of them are different levels of engagement, not believers, management lack of support and toxic work environment. How we manage those challenges will determine the success of our efforts. The way we manage our emotions is even more important.
People are watching our reaction every time something arise. Positive reactions will influence positive behavior in our team. The ability to react positively is a learned behavior, requires practice. The more we learn how to identify and understand our emotions the more we learn about how those emotions influence our behavior. The goal is to learn how we can control and use those emotions in our favor. Those who understand their emotions can capitalize on them to overcome obstacles. Also, is a way to keep a good mood and model positive behaviors.
Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. EI is a very important trait for leadership success. People with a high degree of EI know what they are feeling, what it means, and how can affect other people. Every day will come with different challenges, sometimes the same over and over. Emotional intelligence is what helps us to work with them. Keeping your cool when things go different from expected is not an easy task. If you can manage to do it, your team will learn how to do it too. A good leader is also honest, there are times on which expecting a good outcome is impossible. When we hit those, it is ok to accept it, regroup, make a new plan and keep going.
How to keep yourself calm in difficult situations is a huge challenge. In my humble opinion (by no means an expert opinion) is that everything comes down to how well you know yourself. The critical step is to know your emotions, identify how you feel and learn how to control your feelings. When I recognize that I need time to control myself, I take a walk. Walking through the plant, talking with people almost always make me feel better. It helps me to calm down and gain a different perspective. Sometimes I even talk about the situation with them. More often than not, the conclusion is that everything will be alright. Train the mind to use positive words and stay clear from negative ones. This simple trick is a way to keep you and your team moving in the right direction.