Monday, August 9, 2010

Mackay: Teamwork more crucial in tough times

by Harvey Mackay - Aug. 2, 2010 12:00 AM

When competition among co-workers gets in the way of goals, companies need to evaluate their procedures and perhaps re-evaluate their priorities.

All the cogs in a machine have to be working in concert to maintain productivity. When the human cogs go out of sync, the machine groans and sputters. Regardless of their individual strengths, all the parts must coordinate for peak performance.

Teamwork takes on a much bigger role in tough times. When the team shrinks and fewer players are responsible for results, one underperformer can have a huge impact.

For example, Joanne retires and management decides not to replace her. Her job is split between Andrew and Heather, who are promoted and assume those responsibilities in addition to those already in their job descriptions.

But Heather doesn't do things quite like Joanne did, and Andrew didn't anticipate that he'd have to work so much harder. So folks who used to depend on Joanne's cheerful efficiency try to work around the new arrangement, but the results are disappointing.

This scenario has repeated itself in companies across the country. Hiring statistics indicate that job creation is proceeding at a snail's pace. People with jobs, even jobs they don't love, don't want to be the next to be downsized. If they are reluctant to look for another job, they must learn how to adapt and work together.

In preparation for a family trip to South Africa, I previewed a fascinating new book, "Ubuntu!"

It addresses the importance of teamwork, based on Ubuntu - the African tradition of teamwork and collaboration. I highly recommend this book, written by Stephen Lundin, co-author of the bestseller "Fish," and Bob Nelson, author of another best-seller, "1,001 Ways to Reward Employees."

These men are authorities on employee performance and I value their insight.

According to the authors, "Ubuntu is a philosophy that considers the success of the group above that of the individual."

This concept is told in a fable about a workplace where a newly promoted manager cannot find a way to get his team to work together, and who often ends up trying to cover their mistakes himself.

One day, the manager's boss comes to him in frustration about the performance of his department, and explains how customers are being adversely affected. She is clear about her expectations for improvement. His job is in jeopardy because his management style is allowing too many mistakes.

One of his employees, Simon, is an African M.B.A. candidate who works at the company while he finishes his degree. Simon is a stellar employee whose work is exceptional. He offers to help the manager catch up, and then explains Ubuntu.

The manager is intrigued enough by what he has learned that he shares it with his boss. Among those lessons:

• Ubuntu does not mean respecting bad work. It does mean respecting the person who does the work.

• Ubuntu is a compassionate philosophy, but it is not soft. When the group is threatened by an individual's behavior, that person must be challenged.

• Expect the best from others and you're likely to get it.

• There are two levels of recognition in Ubuntu. The first is to value others for who they are. The second is to value others for what they achieve.

• As long as there are employees who think of themselves as "little people," the work of Ubuntu is not finished.

There is a little twist to the story. The manager learns that Simon was a respected businessman and Ubuntu practitioner in Africa before he came to study in America. As his American manager puts this philosophy into practice, results improve dramatically, as does employee satisfaction.

As companies have to do more with less, it makes sense to pay attention to the people who are asked to take on new or expanded duties.

Effective teamwork soothes employee fears and makes the workplace more productive.

Mackay's Moral: There is no "I"' in team, but you will find "us" in success.

Mackay: Teamwork more crucial in tough times

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