A Research Paper By Océane Staib Evin, Executive Coach, IRELAND
Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.- Helen Keller
Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships. – Michael Jordan
The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime. – Babe Ruth
No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it. -H.E. Luccock
Great things in business are never done by one person, they are done by a team of people. – Steve Jobs
TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More
Whilst increased volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity have re-enforced the necessity of having several people brainstorm on issues to better identify the root causes and find solutions; whilst all research highlight how expertise in topics is no longer sufficient to find solutions in this complex world; whilst quotes pour through social media to highlight the power of team/group/tribe over the individual, leaders continue to, despite their awareness, think, at some level, more individual than group, team than organization.
Bringing people and teams together to maximize the outcome is often harder than it sounds, it is not only about creating a good team spirit, it requires leaders of an organization to sincerely care about others and the goals of the company, more than their own egos or personal goals and to trickle this mindset and spirit throughout the organization. It also requires to adopt and spread growth mindset in which growing and learning become the drivers rather than being right or wrong. It requires building an environment where shame has no place, an environment in which everyone shares, is listened to, and learns from each other, an environment where mistakes are considered as opportunities to improve and evolve.
Many Leaders have today gained the awareness of the importance of teamwork, group work, and skills to build strong teams. They value the development and successes of each individual more than their own, still, these leaders tend to set natural boundaries to the concept of “Togetherness” and common growth.
Last but not least, Covid 19 pandemic and the move to a significantly more virtual world, has put a terrible break on people’s ability to build relationships through simple exchanges around the coffee machines, meetings, and seminars and share on simple topics and concerns which do not require meetings.
Coaching can be of incredible support for leaders to further build and capitalize on this notion and power of togetherness, in creating new ways of developing relationships, removing the unconscious boundaries they have set, and taking not only their teams but their entire organizations to new levels of “Togetherness” acting as ONE larger team with One Larger Ambition to face every challenge with more agility, flexibility, adaptability, and POWER.
How Do Cultures and Education Impact the Ability and Desire to Be “Fully” Part of a Group?
As leaders pro-actively develop their skills and adapt their attitudes to develop strong teams, many underestimate how their education and culture can impact their most profound and natural reactions thereby sending involuntary signs of individualism to others. Indeed, when growing up in individualistic cultures of Western Europe and North America which prise autonomy, independence, self-sufficiency, and uniqueness, people tend to be self-reliant and emphasize standing out and being unique. “I think, therefore I am” from Rene Descartes resonates in the ears of many “Westerners” where people tend to describe themselves using personal characteristics “I am analytical, sarcastic, athletic…”. Even when they praise and promote teamwork they still see themselves as one unique individual within a group and picture what their person and each individual can do rather than focus on what the group together can achieve, each member contributing to the strength and diversity of the group as a whole. In fact, how would one who describes and identifies himself though others – as people do in many African Cultures – as guided by the “Ubuntu” philosophy where one only exists through others, through the community, and where people describe themselves as “I am a good partner” “I am a good leader”, have approached the same difficulty and challenge? Indeed, Ubuntu is a concept according to which your sense of self is shaped by your relationships with other people. It’s a way of living that begins with the premise that “I am only because we are”; “I am because you are” or “ I am human because I belong, I participate. I share.” The approach is very far from the famous “I think, therefore I am” of Descartes and research has proven time and time again the impact of Culture on our Natural and Innate behaviors.
One of the key roles of coaches is to support clients in gaining awareness of their natural biases and help them act and think beyond these biases. Supporting clients to help them see that even if they think beyond their own interest as individuals, they may naturally still tend to think of the interest of a smaller group than what they could or should such as Team vs organization, or more simple to see how a person who they may consider as a weak link in a group due to lack of expertise actually highly contributes to the overall group dynamic and this weak link is, in fact, cement to the group through their empathy and ability to listen to the flow of information and extract the key ones.
Natural Biases: “My Teams vs the Teams of My Peers”, “My Team vs. The Team I Am Part Of”, “My Team vs. The Organisation”
The perception of leadership nowadays is very much different from that in past years. The idea where one heroic individual single-handedly generates results by enforcing his will is considered outdated. Leadership is now considered a “team sport”. Company managers and other people in leadership positions need to work together with their employees to accomplish goals and initiate changes.
A qualified executive team knows how to build a team, maintain momentum, and foster excitement in all levels of the corporate structure. But how can this be achieved?
Most leaders and executive teams have realized that defining a clear purpose to drive their teams’ engagement is not enough, they also need to create strong team dynamics. Today, most companies, big ones, and smaller ones employ coaches to support their leaders create the right dynamics within their teams and stories relate all the transformations and successes within the teams led but one item often remains …. Teams work in Silos as these leaders manage to create wonderful team dynamics but tend to dedicate less energy and attention to the dynamics of the other teams or the bigger teams. How to support Leaders build strong dynamics for the overall organization, beyond the team(s) they lead?
As Patrick Lencioni explains in his books “The Advantage” and “The 5 Dysfunctions of a team”, are organizations healthy enough to tap into their knowledge? When describing his model of Organisational Health, and the priority of building a Cohesive Team he explains that despite the attention brought to build a successful organization, 95% of Leaders naturally will tend to put their top priority on the team their Lead vs the Team they are a member of. They do it naturally as they spend more time with these people, hire these people, have the most expertise in this field, and are thereby more comfortable with these people; also, the team they have built is generally what will give them the most immediate, measurable and direct recognition. Putting a priority on the team you are part of requires significantly more courage and effort. To build strong and healthy organizations is strong not only to build strong teams but it is even more important to build strength in the executive team leaders are part of for the company and the organization as a whole. The role of Executive Coaches can be a real asset to support Leaders in building this habit to think and act beyond their team and even put Top Priority on the team they are part of vs the Team they have built.
Important Questions in Supporting the Client Gain Awareness Could Be:
I hear you receive great recognition from your team, boss, and peers for having built such a strong and effective team which is remarkable:
- How do the teams of your peers feel about you?
- What dynamics have you built with your peers?
- When have you managed to sponsor a project driven by other teams over yours?
- What benefit would sponsoring a project driven by other teams over your give the organization?
- How would your team benefit from you building more cohesiveness and clarity with the other members of the Exec Leadership team?
- How would other teams benefit from you building more cohesiveness and clarity with the other members of the Exec Leadership team?
These questions can lead the client to gain awareness of the benefits of putting a higher priority on being part of the Exec Team than their own team and drive further cohesiveness and strength for the entire organization. Support clients in going beyond the natural boundaries of “Togetherness” they have set for themselves and do feel comfortable with.
Fairness, Empathy, and Trust as Pillars to Building Real “Togetherness”
To build a genuine “Togetherness” in which people feel safe to express their thoughts but also share their mistakes to allow everyone to learn from them and build on them, there must not be any place for shame. Brené Brown explains in “Dare to Lead” on Empathy and Shame resilience, “Empathy is the most powerful connecting and trusting tool we have and it’s an antidote to shame. Empathy is a hostile environment for shame, an environment it can’t survive in because shame needs you to believe you are alone and it’s just you.” “ When we are in shame and we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” Brenéexplains that the first one must recognize when they are in the grip of shame then learn to practice critical awareness as to when we are shameful all we see is our flawed self, alone and struggling. We think we are the only ones, that something is wrong with us, that we are alone. It is only when connecting with others we can see that we are not the only one. One must reach out to others and speak shame.
Here again, a coach’s role can be critical in creating an environment for the client to safely reach out, share his thoughts, and making his shame simply less important by verbalizing it. Through this verbalization, the client may also realize that his issues are in fact universal, that we all fight silent battles against not begin good enough or not belonging enough. In doing so the coach supports the client to recognize when they are in the grip of shame and from there practice critical awareness.
A coach can also support the client identify when he creates an environment that allows for shame to come in for others and see how to address this. Support the client to gain further awareness that shame will not survive in an environment in which fairness, empathy, and trust are present and supporting the client in building an environment where fairness, empathy, and trust are fully present. Here again, coming back to the healthy organization presented by Patrick Lencioni it is not only about building fairness, empathy, and trust within our team but about building in the entire organization. The coach can support the client realizing that he/she may at times favor his own team over others and think through how to ensure that every member of the organization, beyond his team, feel treated fairly by himself/herself and every other executive Leader and that the trust is sufficiently strong to express their thoughts.
The power of “Togetherness”, of group work, of building strong, cohesive teams, has been demonstrated again and again. Many organizations and leaders hire coaches to support them in developing their skills and sensitivity to building strong teams still many organizations and leaders tend to limit the power of togetherness, setting virtual barriers to the notion of “Togetherness”. These barriers can be driven by the influence of the culture westerners have been brought up with but also by comfort, ease, and search for recognition.
I strongly believe Executive Coaches should also support clients in identifying these natural barriers to building stronger “Togetherness” beyond their teams and even their organization. This notion of “Togetherness” should in fact have no limit as the more people feel fairness, empathy, and trust, the more they are safe to share and seek advice/support and give advice support, the more everyone can mutually benefit from the exchanges.
To conclude I would like to also invite people to think of the power for small companies or entrepreneurs of building togetherness even with your competitors. Indeed a natural reaction of many small companies would be to see how they are better than competitors to reassure themselves and sell their strength. They try to gain further market share convinced that gaining market share can only be done by reducing that of others and forgetting the mutual strength that can be built together.
Taking it beyond your organisation – building with your competitors
But here again, building with competitors is about building a trustworthy and transparent business environment that also generates trust for clients. Indeed, giving positive light to other companies will show that you are honest, willing to work to win business from the client, and are trustworthy.
Working with competitors can allow being stronger bypassing business back and forth, relying on each other if you can’t make a deadline, fit in that extra project; you may even be able to collaborate on big projects and work toward common goals you couldn’t achieve on your own.
I would also share 3 key reasons shared by Robert Tuchman to build with competitors which I would extend to 3 key reasons to build “togetherness” in a limitless way:
- Sharing information is often mutually beneficial
- Teaching accomplishes more than withholding does
- It is always towards the greater good in this case it is always better for the Industry.
As such the coach should support his clients to potentially build beyond the natural barriers they may have set for themselves, their organization, or their business.
Individualistic cultures and behaviors, Kendra Cherry, Reviewed by Amy Morin, LCSW
Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
Vertical Development in the Workplace Peter Bluckert
Gestalt Coaching, Peter Bluckert
'I Am Because We Are: The African Philosophy of Ubuntu, by Steve Paulson
https://corporatefinanceinstitute.com/resources/careers/soft-skills/adaptive-leadership/: What is Adaptive Leadership?
Research Paper: Building Great Teams With Coaching
Harvard Business Review: 3 Tools to Help Leaders Steady their Teams during a Transition, by Victoria M. Grady
How Mastering Teamwork Will Make Your Organization Successful, by Alex Kowtun, Forbes Councils Member
The Advantage and The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by PatDysfunctionsi
Patrick Lencioni In “The Advantage” and “the 5 Dysfunctions of a team” books
Why Working Together With Competition Will Improve an Entrepreneur’s, Bottom Line
5 Reasons You Need to Work With Your Competitors by Robert Tuchman