In many workplaces, “teamwork” is more common as a buzzword than as an actual practice.
In a bid to boost performance, teamwork is often touted in corporate vision statements, on coffee mugs, on wall posters, and on company T-shirts.
Teamwork is the subject of banal pep talks by goofy managers in TV sitcoms.
In short, teamwork has been given a bad name by a world of bad practitioners.
But when we’re strategic about putting both the team and the work into teamwork, beautiful things can happen.
That’s the message of a fine new book called Do Big Things: The Simple Steps Teams Can Take to Mobilize Hearts and Minds, and Make an Epic Impact. It’s an ambitious title for a book, but this one actually delivers.
For some fresh thinking on the subject of teams and performance, I interviewed Craig W. Ross, one of the authors. He’s a consultant and executive performance coach.
Rodger Dean Duncan: You make a good case for engaging people’s heads, hearts, and hopes in their work. Why do so many leaders still cling to antiquated (and failure-prone) models of change-by-announcement and change-by-executive-decree?
Craig W. Ross: There are three primary causes: (1) The top-down, do-as-I-say approach is endorsed by executive leadership through repeated modeling. (2) Power creates the illusion of elevated intelligence or wisdom. Good-hearted leaders fall victim to the thinking that “I know, and they don’t,” and consequently lead via mandates. (3) Far too many people think that creating change is an intellectual exercise. It’s not. It’s the business of the heart. Telling others what they should do isn’t as effective as activating the emotions others possess—particularly those related to motivations.
Duncan: In a nutshell, what is the Do Big Things (DBT) Framework that you espouse for helping teams produce extraordinary results?
Ross: Teams rarely fail because they lack talent or time. They flop because they don’t have a recipe to use the ingredients they possess. Everyone knows the traits successful teams share, such as trust, collaboration, and accountability, among others. The distressing truth, however, is that few people know how to quickly put those traits into practice.
The DBT Framework is a recipe of seven steps that shape thinking and actions that successful teams have utilized in all arenas to overcome extraordinary challenges and deliver big outcomes with team members who have their whole heart in it.
Duncan: How can a leader tell if a team’s “whole heart” is in a project or initiative?
Ross: When team members bring their best to every situation, bring out the best in those they’re interacting with, and consistently partner across the enterprise, then you know your team’s whole heart is in their work. Teams that flat line before reaching the finish line have team members who give their best effort only when circumstances are in their favor. Teams that win big are comprised of people who bring their best and full self to the team’s efforts unconditionally.
Duncan: Many organizations are frustrated because their people development programs often fail to produce much improvement. You call this “the Dirty Fish Tank Model.” Please explain.
Ross: If you remove a fish from a dirty fish tank, scrub and bathe it, then put it back into the unchanged, filthy environment from whence it came, will the tank become cleaner? Hardly. Even if a lot of fish were cleaned, nothing would change.
This same tactic is used by well-intentioned organizations: They remove leaders from the people and culture where work gets done (the tank), clean them (training), then put them back into the same, unaltered system. Billions of dollars are wasted in the U.S. on this failed approach, while organizations continue to suffer from chronic rates of disconnected, over-stressed and dysfunctional teams.
Leaders become stronger when they are accountable to practicing what they’re learning. This occurs best when the people and system around them are being elevated in concert with their efforts. This can be accomplished through an organization-wide effort or a team-by-team approach.
Duncan: What are the keys to inspiring people to genuinely care about their work?
Ross: People come to their first day on the job caring about their work and wanting to do great things. This fact is key to developing an inspired workforce. Leaders who forget this think that others are somehow deficient in their level of caring and motivation, and it’s the leader’s job to give them what they don’t have. The manipulative actions that follow ultimately insult and de-activate those on the receiving end.
Daily interactions go from being merely transactional to transformative when a leader operates with the wisdom that people already possess a strong desire to do great and important things. Now, I care more about the people I’m interacting with. I’m more inclusive because I’m curious about what others believe and think. And that’s inspiring.
Duncan: Asking questions—and then really listening to the answers—is a hallmark of effective teams. What’s a good tactic to develop this mindset and skill?
Ross: Every day, most workers are bombarded by basic, boilerplate execution questions: What do we need to do? How do we do it? When does it need to be done? As these questions reign down on teammates, it has a numbing effect. The outcome is predictable: people check out because they’re no longer thinking in ways that mobilize their emotions.
Questions that require people to think, specifically about aspects like purpose, vision, and motivation, mobilize hearts and minds. When leaders include questions that appeal most to people, while still using their boilerplate questions, the thinking and actions of the team transform, as does the performance that follows.
Duncan: What are the differences between extrinsic and intrinsic motivators, and how can understanding those differences help a leader?
Ross: Leaders who use mostly extrinsic motivators, such as bonuses, promotions, or praise, condition those they lead to rely on external influences to determine their level and type of effort. Such teams have a high risk of failure because they don’t control their level of energy. External forces do. It’s like an old jukebox: When you stop putting money in, it stops playing music.
Intrinsic rewards are those that all humans covet: purpose, inclusion, rich relationships, and the ability to make a difference are just a few. When leaders ensure those they lead are receiving intrinsic rewards that are personal and internal, team members are more apt to control their focus, level of energy, and deliver the sort of effort necessary for the team to do big things.
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