Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Practice Teamwork (Principle 5)

You may want to read my initial post for perspective
Everything I Needed to Know

An Example from Baseball

 Below are the World Series participants from 2007 to 2012 along with their team salaries and the max team salary in MLB. Here are some stats:

Team Salary Rank
Runner Up
Team Salary Rank
Highest Team Salary
SF Giants
8th ($117M)
Detroit Tigers
5th ($132M)
St Louis Cardinals
11th ($105M)
Texas Rangers
13th ($92M)
SF Giants
10th ($97M)
Texas Rangers
27th ($55M)
NY Yankees
1st ($201M)
Philadelphia Phillies
7th ($113M)
Philadelphia Phillies
12th ($98M)
Tampa Bay Rays
21st ($43M)
Boston Red Sox
2nd ($143M)
Colorado Rockies
25th ($54M)

  • The winner on average paid $74M less in payroll than the highest paid team
  • The runner up on average paid $119M less in payroll than the highest paid team
  • How the above 12 teams salaries compare to the rest of MLB
    • 50% pay in the top third of the league
    • 25% pay in the middle third of the league
    • 25% pay in the bottom third of the league
So what can one conclude or infer from this data. Money alone will not win a title. Money will buy top talent and top talent alone will not guarantee a title. There is more and it is magical. We have all seen it, we all want it and at times we are afraid of it. The it is TEAMWORK. We want it because we want to win and we are afraid of it because we must surrender part of ourselves to the larger goal. This requires trust and vulnerability.

The teams above won because they combined together to be better than the sum of the individuals. They captured the magic in the form of a team using teamwork. Many love the idea of teamwork, but fall short of getting there. Why?

Build Team By Removing Anti Team Thinking

In short, I believe selfishness, leadership style, and a focus on the short term limit many organizations from becoming team oriented. Lets start with selfishness.


Leaders need to place the value of teamwork above themselves and the individuals on the team. This means creating space, rules, principles and rewards that support teamwork. Saying it, holding an offsite, sharing your feelings will not magically make it happen. The book Five Dysfunctions of a Team does a good job of pointing out the ingredients needed for a strong team and some steps to get there. It must be built into the culture and the leadership

Selfishness - The Hero

The hero is the enemy of being team. These are people that derive great value from being the savior. They hold key knowledge and are reluctant to share. They manipulate circumstances to highlight their heroism. They like hearing how much they are needed. The hero is truly selfish and subscribes to the scarcity mentality. There is not enough greatness for all, I must protect it for myself. People around this person will struggle to grow and though they may be labeled a team, they will not win like a team.

Selfishness is even worse when you take it to the role or departmental level. When blame or discussions revolve around statements like its developments fault, or product managements fault, the organization looses sight of the customer and delivering value. They are not operating as a team and like the baseball teams, they may spend a lot of money, but will not make it to the big game.

From a development process point of view, agile succeeds on self managed teams. Agile promotes teamwork in backlog grooming, sprint planning, daily stand-ups, reviews and retrospectives. Agile, in its true form, will not reward the hero. When one company went to agile, one of the key people (the hero) went to HR and complained that he/she did all the work and did not wanted their review to be tied to the team. In this case, the person has challenged the mission of the organization. Will the org bow down to the hero or will it risk moving forward for the multiplier principle of teamwork.

Leadership Style

As stated above, teams succeed when individuals willingly give their creativity and passions to a mission larger than themselves. They are committed to serve the team and work to win at all cost. For the individual, this requires a level of vulnerability and trust. Leaders needs to protect this. You cannot scream team and then turn around and undercut it. Leaders need to create space and rewards that recognize the team more than individual accomplishments. I have heard from people at review time or in a 1 on 1 discussions how great they did and how valuable they are. I ask them, are we making our goal and show me how you are making people around you better. This throws many people off and the reality is many cases they are great (just individually great). Leaders need to promote that greatness along with the willingness to serve and help those around them be great as well. We succeed or lose as a team.

Focus on the Long Term

When focusing on the short term, we will tend to do what it takes to maximize the outcome. Beg borrow and steal for today and worry about tomorrow later. Team thinking can be deconstructed quickly in this kind of environment. It matters not what the team said they could do, they are mandated to make a date, do it a certain way all in the name of results for today. It is much harder to better define the problem and give the team space for controlled opportunities. In agile, it is common for teams to fail their first 3 or 4 sprints. You will need to look beyond the short term to give teams chance to form. For teams, it is more about how you finish than it is how you start.

In closing, teamwork, along with professional growth and accountability, are the multiplier principles. These are the principles, when executed well, create high performing organizations. Do not under estimate the power of a talented team, with a big hard problem, and the organizational support to make it happen. Watch the movie Apollo 13 for a great example of teams rallying together for a great cause.

Some thing to try

  • reward teams for team successes. Public recognition, team lunch, a thank you.
  • look to diffuse hero behavior and move to team ownership. This may mean some tough conversations with some of your "best" performers.
  • set goals at the team level based on team delivered results
  • reward team behavior even if the results needed to be better and help give the team what it needs to be better
  • do not be afraid to take some chances
  • work through team training like Five Dysfunctions of a Team

“Individual commitment to a group effort - that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” Vincent Lombardi
  1. Define and own the problem 
  2. Follow your work to your customer(s)
  3. Practice continuous improvement
  4. Provide professional growth
  5. Build and practice teamwork
  6. Provide accountability

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