Excerpt from Book by Nancy Lieberman

Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc., www.wiley.com, from Playbook for Success: A Hall of Famer’s Business Tactics for Teamwork and Leadership by Nancy Lieberman © 2010 by Nancy Lieberman

Teamwork Defined

Like so many other issues I’ve covered so far in my Playbook for Success, I believe that teamwork comes down to attitude. It comprises the ability to give, support, and see a picture bigger than one with just you in it. It requires that you define your goals, and understand how they mesh with those of your coworkers, your department, and the company itself.

I recall one company I visited several years ago that, in my estimation, had a very effective way of ensuring that all its employees worked toward the greater good of the entire team. The organization’s senior management met for two days annually to map out, at a macro level, companywide goals for the coming year. Senior managers then passed those goals down to the middle managers, who directed the departments. They, in turn, shared these goals with their employees and developed their own departmental goals, which were designed to help meet the overall company objectives. Finally, each individual employee then develops his or her own goals designed to help the department—and, hence, the company—meet its goals.

Middle managers took this cooperative approach a step further. Before their departmental goals were finalized, they met and shared them to make sure all were in alignment, that none would throw up barriers or problems that might impede another department’s chance of success. Only then were the goals finalized and passed up to senior management.

Oh, and one other thing: Everyone’s bonuses depended not only on their ability to meet their individual goals, but on the department and the company as a whole doing so as well. The company worked like a beautifully stacked wall of fieldstone—each piece strong and effective, yet dependent on the others to succeed.

Now that’s teamwork!

Another example of teamwork comes from my own experience as coach and general manager of the Detroit Shock. I was brand new to a company where a number of employees had worked for years. I needed to hire an executive assistant, and I wanted someone who knew the lay of the land, the politics, where the proverbial bodies were buried, and how things got done. I needed someone who would partner with me, to make me—and, thus, the team—successful. So I asked Palace Sports and Entertainment president, Tom Wilson, the man who hired me, if I could hire his executive assistant Judy Romero, a savvy woman who had worked in the organization for years. To Tom’s credit, because he wanted what was best for the team, not just for himself, he let me sign her on as my right hand.

Building a Team

Of course, you don’t build a team overnight, particularly if your current department or company has been functioning more like a reality television program than a well-oiled machine. Nevertheless, I want you to start on this project right now.

You have to begin by asking yourself tough questions:

  • Who are my personnel?
  • Do their strengths and weaknesses fit our team?
  • What’s the chemistry like?
  • Are we being productive and moving toward our goals?
  • Do we need to make changes and reassign people?
  • How do we stack up to the competition?

These are all difficult questions you have to answer when building your team. In this way, you will eventually find common ground on which to meet, where you can find solutions to problems!

Before you make any decisions, talk to the individuals on your team. Define goals for them, as well as incremental measurements they are expected to hit along the way. Then, if they don’t, ask why not. It’s a simple question. Are there problems we didn’t foresee? How can I help you? Conversely, when employees are doing a fantastic job, tell them that you appreciate it—let then know you noticed. Pat them on the back. Tell them in front of the group, or privately, whichever is most appropriate, that you’re proud of what they’ve done. Appreciation goes a long way toward pulling others up to their level.

Maybe you work in the production department and you’re tired of the sales manager overcommitting. Sit down and make a list of your concerns, then describe what you would like to see happen to resolve them. Make sure to include the things that you can do in return to help the sales manager with your requests. Then invite him or her to lunch.

Begin discussing your list at the restaurant (or in any other nonthreatening environment). Keep the conversation positive. Instead of saying, for example, “You always tell customers we can deliver in two weeks when you know we need at least a month to process those orders, ” try something like, “I know there’s been a disconnect between what the customer expects and what we’ve been providing. How can we improve on that?” Spell out your challenges and listen to his or hers in return. By listening and sharing, you’ll eventually find common ground from which to move forward!

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