Leaders of businesses know organizations last only when they have competitive advantages. Anything unique to a company, be it skills or resources, that competitors can’t replicate can give businesses critical competitive advantages. The exact opposite happens when your company lacks competitive advantages, the key advantage being teamwork.
Let’s assess some common sources of competitive advantages that businesses can have –
- Research and Development capabilities
- Exclusive rights to intellectual properties
- Superior product
- High-quality customer support
- Yadda yadda yadaa…and the list goes on……
These sources of competitive advantages are great for businesses. But, in this age of free access to information and hyper-volatile markets, any of these sources of competitive advantages can fail at any point. Or, businesses can be “robbed” of these advantages in an instant.
For instance, Yahoo had a “first-mover advantage” over Google when the two companies began their quest to compile all the information in the world. Look where we are now. There are no universally applicable business advantages or laws, except for one.
Teamwork – The Only Advantage You Have Over Your Competitor
The only sustainable competitive advantage that a business has over its competitors is teamwork. After all, a business is just a factory of human beings working in cohesion to achieve greater objectives. When there’s no cohesion – there’s no business. No matter how much working capital you have or how advanced your research and development capabilities, there’ll always be a factory of workers functioning more cohesively than yours to win the marathon.
Plus, teamwork is the only competitive advantage that has ‘the Multiplier Effect.’ The productivity levels and performance improvements that can be achieved via cohesive teamwork should never be underestimated. Unfortunately, this key competitive advantage is quite rare nowadays. When people in the same boat stop rowing in the same direction, the boat is likelier to sink, let alone dominate the waters.
If you’re unsure whether you’re in a dysfunctional team that’s not going anywhere, look for signs like inefficient leadership. The first sign of people not being able to work together is a leader who holds other people accountable for the group’s collective failings. The second sign is team members willing to call each other out instead of taking responsibility. Sounds familiar? If so, let’s explore the concept of “teamwork” or more importantly “functional teamwork”
What is Teamwork?
Is teamwork driven by homogeneity? Is “functional” teamwork only possible when all employees have similar mindsets and backgrounds?
The consulting firm McKinsey & Company proved otherwise in their study involving several teams consisting of participants from diverse (race, gender, age, etc.) and non-diverse backgrounds.
The company found that teams with participants from diverse backgrounds performed 35% better than teams with participants from similar backgrounds. The participants were able to share unique viewpoints which led to exponential increases in ideas.
Does “functional” teamwork happen when everyone decides to sacrifice their happiness for the group’s gain?
Well, a recent report from the University of Warwick suggests quite the opposite. Companies with functional teams had happier employees. Employees of such companies feel 80% better emotionally and are 20% more productive than disengaged employees in dysfunctional teams.
Gusto, the cloud-based human resource software company, also reported that 54% of their employees admitted to not leaving the company primarily because they felt a strong sense of kinship with coworkers.
Achieving a shared mission and celebrating milestones along the way were bigger incentives for them to stay at the company, even if their best interests were slightly hampered.
Does teamwork come from silent subordinates and steadfast leaders?
Well, one of the world’s best CEOs recently spoke at a public forum where he said he actively seeks employees who are “annoying,” “radical,” and “rebels” with pioneering spirits.
A lot of our initial impulses about functional teamwork are actually wrong. Employees who “rock the boat” aren’t facing too many problems at leading institutions. The employees who don’t know which direction they’re headed seem to be in more trouble.
Dysfunctional Teams – Recognizing the Problem
Modern-day businesses have access to widespread knowledge about state-of-the-art project management techniques, robust systems for project planning, and even very experienced and ambitious managers and support staff. Is it a shame that so many businesses with such resources and “competitive advantages” are failing? No.
These businesses refusing to admit the dysfunctionality in the workforce and pretending that everything is alright – now that’s the real shame! The lack of understanding by managers, executives, and employees of the nature of teamwork is a huge problem. The companies that get it right learn from previous project failures as a collective. The ones that don’t, fail just as soon there’s a project failure symptom in the air.
Teamwork is a Choice
Teamwork isn’t an inherent quality. It’s a choice that multiple people make simultaneously. We are going to work together and help each other – that’s it. That’s the only choice employees need to make. If acting on this choice means addressing a coworker’s inefficiency or creating a support network for employee assessments, then so be it. Teamwork drives organizational and employee health.
If swallowing some bitter pills, both as a group and as individuals, is what it’s going to take to achieve this sustainable competitive advantage, then leaders need to facilitate this process. That starts by spotting the signs of dysfunctionality in the workforce.
Some common symptoms include –
- Substandard Decision-Making –
Business decisions can go wrong and that’s fine. But, when there’s no proper structure of decision-making at a company, or even worse, no credited decision-makers, workforces are bound to become dysfunctional teams that commit to correcting the wrong decisions of the past and set-up clear standards of performance won’t hesitate to hold members accountable from time to time.
However, in a dysfunctional team, adhering to strict standards and decisions takes second place as there are usually no primary sources of accountability. Hence, team members either make their own decisions or go to their peers for advice. Ultimately, the organization fails to take steps in a unified direction.
- Too Comfortable or Too Withdrawn –
A hallmark of dysfunctional teams are members who are either too comfortable at the workplace or too withdrawn to participate in decision-making processes. As a result, team members aren’t able to pay attention to important details.
The loudmouths steal the spotlight and the timid ones silently wait to engage in conflict with them. All of these tensions can easily spiral into toxic workplace environments full of gossiping, lying, inabilities to commit to business decisions.
When workers attempt to hold one another accountable, they end up playing ‘blame games.’ “If you don’t finish the report this weekend, I won’t come to the meeting” – such thought patterns where team members put their individual agendas over what’s best for the teams are extremely common in failing companies.
- High Employee Turnover –
Smart employees quickly spot dysfunctional teams. They realize that all members of the team are putting their career aspirations, in-groups, and ego-driven statuses ahead of the team. Hence, such employees are likelier to leave.
Good teamwork has many dimensions, high employee retention is one of them. A recent study involving 155,000 convenience stores found that the best-performing stores had 75% employee turnover rates every year when the industry average was 115%. Employee turnover has a direct link to profitability even in convenience stores. The same patterns can be observed in any dysfunctional workforce, irrespective of the industry.
- Conflict and Passive Aggressiveness –
Companies are factories of humans so individual parts are bound to collide at some point and cause loud noises. Unfortunately, in dysfunctional workforces, these noises come out at the wrong time. Since most team members are hesitant to engage in passionate dialogue regarding business issues and decisions, there’s no real progress. All “functional” workforces have members who constantly challenge and probe one another, as making “truthful” decisions is the goal. In dysfunctional teams, protecting personal statuses is the key priority for members.
- Trust –
In the end, it all boils down to trust. Members of high-functioning teams trust each other on a fundamental basis. That fundament is commercial progress. If that means exposing one’s weaknesses, mistakes, and apprehensions, then other team members won’t hesitate. On the other hand, dysfunctional team members always speak with filters and completely burn the bridges of in-team conversations.
Addressing the Dysfunction
If the collective results that define business success are non-existent for long periods, the business faces the threat of bankruptcy. It’s down to the leaders to make stern changes to the structure of the team. All of that starts by addressing these two issues –
Decision to Sink or Swim –
Many team improvement efforts are often destined to fail from the start because the supposed members don’t even realize they need to act as a team. If the team is showing no signs of sharing common goals, collectively reaping the rewards, and taking shared responsibilities, it might be time to reset.
Leaders of the group need to verify whether the “team” is meeting any of these criteria. Is there any team at all? Are there smaller teams within the team? Are these subsets of the group interdependent or at least mutually answerable for their decisions? If your conclusion is your “team” isn’t really a team, just a group of undecided individuals, then it’s good. But every member needs to realize this. Only then can they start to progress from ground zero.
Setting Up a Plan to Progress –
Non-teams can succeed if every member knows his/her status and responsibilities in the business. It would be better if the “team” is restructured and given a different designation instead of pretending to be part of something that’s non-existent. The leader must sit-down fellow members and squash all the false expectations.
Tell them that the organization won’t be pursuing this dysfunctional team anymore and there’s no need to feel frustrated. Or, the team members can come to the conclusion that they want to stick together. Then, the leaders need to start building from the starting point, make members quash all their past resentments towards each other, and start moving in a unified direction.
Getting Your Hands Dirty
If the dysfunctional team decides to give it another go, they better be prepared for some dirty work. Teamwork is wonderful but only if all members are willing to invest their time and patience into the process of team-building. The leaders would have to put an end to practices like shortcuts, half-baked decisions, and half measures for good.
If you want to work as a team, don’t live with memories of the past. Team building is tougher than operating as a team so teams with track records of dysfunctional behaviors are bound to struggle at first. But, every day, past problems start resolving themselves once every member is aware of the importance of working as a team.
Astronomical changes within weeks or months of such discussions are possible. Here are some measures that can facilitate this process of rebuilding –
- Assessment of all Employees –
Some members will start performing as a team member. Some will wait for others to open the doors to collaboration first. Others will stay the same so it’s important for management to move them on. Nasty professionals always find new ways to halt team-building efforts. Leaders should give them a chance to prove their determination to help the team. If they fail, fire them.
- Encouraging Self-Assessment –
Asking employees to evaluate themselves is a great team-building exercise. Sure, some employees with zero people skills will fail these tests. But, reminding them of their responsibilities as team members via these tests is very important. Give them clear objectives and assess how well they demonstrate the right behaviors.
- Passion for the Mission and the Team –
Team leaders must find ways to demonstrate to the members the importance of collaboration and what’s at stake. Merely asking team members to become more engaged doesn’t work. Employers and team leaders must constantly work towards converting unenthusiastic employees into hungry ones.
Other successful team-building techniques include employee ranking systems, peer to peer discussion sessions, and setting clear expectations for each member of the team.