Team effectiveness starts with you

  • August 18, 2016

One of my bugbears is when someone asks me if we do team building – the belief that if we all go rock climbing and have a boerewors roll and a beer after, the team will be built. To me, that’s just socialising.

The only way to truly build a team is to build self-awareness among the individuals who make up that team.

Who am I? Who are you? What makes you tick? What makes you explode? We can’t serve our teams, unless we know who we are.  

Teams are made up of people with complementary skills and with a diverse range of strengths, personalities, work styles and past experiences.

Take for example Sindi, she is an introvert and focuses on building relationships. She works with Musa who is an extrovert and is extremely task-driven and goal-orientated. When Musa asks Sindi for her opinion on the annual report, he doesn’t start with small-talk, he comes straight to the point. His direct approach intimidates Sindi. When Sindi asks Musa to amend the annual report she spends a few minutes chatting first. This irritates Musi and slows him down.

Sounds familiar?

In addition to how our personality types inform our communication style, other common problems that Emuthini diagnoses among teams include lack of respect, lack of trust and a culture of blame and defensiveness.

For example, when new teams are forming, their lack of effectiveness might be down to the fact that everyone is still getting used to each other and to their joint task. Later it might be because the team is squaring up to a new challenge where mistakes are likely and tensions and arguments can escalate.

However, irrespective of the external pressures, all team development comes back to individual awareness. When we learn what energizes us, what drains us, and what triggers our teammates, we can learn to meet the other where they are – not where we are. We need to be flexible, we cannot be rigid in our way of being. So Musa might pause and ask about Sindi’s weekend. Sindi would be mindful that Musa doesn’t like small talk and get straight to the point. They can learn to meet and work at a comfortable junction.

Sometimes I’m asked if everyone has the capacity for self-awareness. It’s a question that
I have been chewing on recently. It is true that introspection is difficult for most people. We all have painful personal histories. But when we allow ourselves to be slightly vulnerable by sharing our stories and our human side, that is when trust is built.  
Honesty connects people, enabling a team to become more cohesive and respectful of each other because they begin to see each other beyond their titles and start to connect at a more human level. 

And then once the hard work is done, yes, by all means, have a boerewors roll and a beer. Once we have dealt with the things below the water line, we are able to socialise with each other more authentically and work better together towards a common purpose.

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