Team Maintenance

Photo by rkramer62


We have all been there before. We decide to go on a diet. Or start working out. Or spend more time with the family. It starts out great. We go to the gym 4 times a week. We eat only an apple for five days. We manage to get home three times in the first week before 7PM. We see results. But then, something happens. We stop. Life takes its toll on us. We can’t seem to prioritize our decision anymore. The way our life is built is not supporting our decisions. These decisions will not work in a vacuüm. They must be incorporated into our life, slowly, but surly. Otherwise, it is just to hard to deliver results.

Teamwork is just the same. We think that if we only concentrate on the results, on the task or the issues at hand, everything will be fine. And then we go into a spiral, where the task demands more and more time. And what gets left behind? The team. It’s culture, it’s structure, the interactions between the people.

We have so much work on our hands that “working on the team culture and processes” seem like an indulgence. Who has time for that? We have real work to do. So what do we do, we go to some team building exercise in the woods, where we pull ropes for a day and feel like we worked on our teamwork.

But that is just like going to the gym for a week. Very painful in the short run and not very helpful in the long run.

Every research ever done on the subject of teams suggests that real high performing teams require maintenance. It is enough to focus on the task at hand and on the deliverables. Teams are made of people, and people form relationships. And these relationships, just like our personal relationships, need to be maintained all the time. And they need a setting and environment that supports them. Otherwise, they became a relationship on paper.

Jon Gordon writes in his blog today:

Whether we’re talking sports, business, education, healthcare, etc. the key to success is to build a winning team first. Of course this seems obvious but with increasing pressure to reach certain targets and goals and a challenging economy it’s easy for leaders and their teams to become outward focused on numbers and outcomes rather than inward focused on building the right environment, culture, attitude and synergy.

We must remember that it’s not the numbers that drive the people but the people and team that drive the numbers.

Yes, it is about choosing the right people. About creating the right process. About creating a supporting environment and culture.  Like so many things in life, sometimes the best way to reach our goal, in this case the results, is to not focus on them. The indirect approach.

Just like every person needs to incorporate weekly thinking-time into his schedule, so does a team need to set maintenance time to work on its effectiveness (and not on the results). Time to talk about how the team is doing. Time to get to know each other. Time to reflect about the team’s purpose and every individual’s role in it.

Like starting a diet or going to the gym, there is no one who will do it for you. If you are a team member demand it, make it a part of the culture, of the norm. Ignore those who make fun of you and insist. If you are a team manager, there is really no one else who has more influence on the team’s design and processes but you – and your team – if you let them…

It’s time for some team maintenance.



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