Thursday, January 24, 2008

Diversity and Teamwork

One of the main points of my MountainVision keynote message is the idea that one must put the team ahead of their own aspirations in order to truly acheive success. This is obviously critical and quite fundamental...but in my conversations with several organizational leaders recently, a discussion grew from this concept that proved to be interesting...

The idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts or that groups working together can come up with higher solutions than individuals can on their own can be a very challenging concept especially if you are the team leader. As individuals we enjoy being recognized for our education, our status, our seniority. Our academic system rewards individual achievement. Awards and honors, medals and trophies are granted for the efforts of the one. This seems to be even more pronounced in the Gen Y'ers. Teamwork however, is different in that the accolades and credit for achievements are shared equally by all in the group or unit. In order for the sharing of praise to be mutually beneficial to the group each team member must have respect and appreciation for their fellow teammates and a genuine sense of desire for their fellow team members to succeed.

The big question is: how do we create a culture in which individuals from different backgrounds, with different educations and from different levels of society "want" to function together as a group to the mutual success of that group and of the company the group works for?

The answer is in building relationships among the team members. We all have relationships. We may tend to think of relationships with work mates as less important than our personal relationships. However, we will spend one third of our lives with the people we work with. That being the case, it would seem wise to cultivate relationships with those individuals that would be conducive to success both individually and as a collective.

True teamwork culture can be seen when observing children at play who are all about the same age. Most young children have an almost innate sense of community. They share readily (most of the time) and take suggestions from one another without prejudice (most of the time). Give them a bunch of crayons or building toys and they will each contribute to whatever is being done freely. They don't seem to care about the color of their playmates skin, or how much money their parents make or where they live. All that seems to matter is that they are all on the playground or at recess and the object is to have fun. They carry on as if they were one big happy family (albiet there is the ever present conflict and power battle on the playground just as there is in the workplace)

Another name for teamwork culture is "family." There are different kinds of family. What I'm talking about is creating a familial environment through fun, shared experiences that break down the barriers between departments and individuals and release the creative energy that contributes to the success of any organization.

Ultimately, it is not the quality of an organization's products or services that will ensure its success but the loyalty of its workforce to its missions and goals. What are you most loyal to? Is it not to your "friends" and "family?" Who would you rather see succeed? Is it not those individuals you feel closest to, or at least feel some type of connection to? The foregoing is the reason why multi-million dollar organizations are spending literally millions of dollars every year sending their groups to teamwork camps, go through team building exercises or send groups on leadership expeditions with MountainVision. The thrust behind all team building experiences to create a fun relaxed environment in which individuals who perhaps we're not quite as familiar with one another might get to know things about their teammates that would better help them understand the people they work with. Once these fun experiences have been shared by the group it is easier to draw on the good feeling created by those experiences to be more tolerant of a co-workers idiosyncrasies even welcome their sometimes "quirky" view of things. A true teamwork culture values the diversity of its members and regularly draws on that diversity to accomplish its goals. Diversity connects the team.

What kinds of activities can help create this kind of culture? Well, think of what fun did for you when you were a kid. Activities should be a fun learning experience. Experiencial learning has tremendous value and connects teams together. And you don't have to invest millions of dollars to train your people. Family picnics where you play games that bring people together carry only the cost of the food.
MountainVision's Leadership Expeditions. We provide private treks to inspiring and exotic locations around the world where we will facilitate powerful teamwork messages over our evening meals. These discussions will be summarized and sent back to the organizational family where they can be shared and discussed within the entire company. Another powerful way to experience teamwork on a deeper level.

It really comes down to creating a bond that goes beyond the monochromic relationships we often engage in at work. By developing friendships, we create the ability to share and optimize...both at work and at home.