Playing Well With Others

Playing Well With Others

“The team I work on is not a team at all.”


“This is a cut throat business… if you’re not in it for yourself then you’re delusional.”


“Teamwork is nice to talk about…but the last team I was on was in the 11th grade.”


“Sure, it would make a big difference if I felt like I wasn’t in this all alone. But then it would be nice if Santa and the Tooth Fairy were real too.”


Any of the above statements sound familiar?  If we believe what many employees have to say about how important teamwork is – and how seldom it takes place in industry – one might assume that building an inclusive work environment would be a major priority – for all of us.


Especially those with formal leadership assignments.  Simple, right?


Reality check.  Leadership – and its less advanced cousin (management) – is anything but simple. Companies (and consultants) devote millions of hours to dissecting it – studying it – and building models and other tools that support its development.


Leadership is easy to talk about – but when we step back and examine most organizations in this country it’s clear that it remains very much an elusive goal. Gallup estimates companies “get it right” as regards their selection and cultivation of effective supervisors/managers less than 20% of the time – and the impact on productivity, morale, and culture are reflected in the fact that 70% of the U.S. employee base is at some level of disengagement.


The primary external influencer of your engagement in your professional life is your manager. Draw the golden card and your chances for a meaningful work experience increase exponentially.


Unfortunately the deck is stacked a bit in that regard. Most of us don’t find that transformative leader until well into our careers – if ever.


Which takes us to three Leadership Critical Success Factors (CSFs) that distinguish leaders of merit.   I have never yet met a truly successful manager of people who couldn’t:


  1. Source, recruit, and hire top talent
  2. Develop and retain that talent
  3. Mold that talent into a team whose sum exceeds the total of its individual parts


How leaders accomplish each of the above can be complicated – but for now, let’s agree that if you can’t find great employees, develop them, and help them work together then your management career is likely to be either short-lived or mediocre.


Is this an overly simplistic definition of Leadership CSFs?


I don’t think so – I’ve invested decades understanding why and how some live these principles while so many others struggle.


Much of my consulting practice focuses on the first 2 factors but I’m finding that an often-overlooked challenge for many companies is when we advance to the 3rd point – assembling high performance teams.


Why? Because almost every firm is in a sustained (some might say interminable) change phase – organizational disruption is rampant, personnel shifts like sands on a windy beach, lines of authority blur, market factors obscure – and a leader’s ability to actually transform his or her work group into collaborative, interdependent teams is compromised.


In a world where information and technology surrounds us many employees feel isolated – and alone. And our profits suffer – as does morale – as does our sense of purpose – as does our engagement – as does our culture.


So, what do we do about that – beyond resigning ourselves to the fact that a majority of employees can only lament how great it would be to be a part of a team?


As a precursor to some of our Executive Coaching sessions – as well as our training workshops – we gather information from employees who are asked to work as members of a team.


The objective is to assess at what level the current “team” is operating, the challenges at play, and ultimately determine how we advance.


Our findings are sometimes sobering. A great many team members profess frustration with their connection to others. The only meaningful touch is limited to occasional staff meetings or teleconferences. No sense of aligned purpose – no alignment of efforts – no collaborative ownership.


Translation – NO TEAM.


We train and coach on three driving principles that virtually every enduring, high performance team shares – but only after assessing every group’s situation independently.  The Analysis and Diagnosis is critical to the Treatment Plan.


Here’s a greatly simplified version one of our pre-work vehicles – The Compass Alliance Performance Team Analysis Tool. We use the CAPTAT to help answer 2 important questions for clients:


  • Where are we at today as regards this work group’s level of teamwork?
  • How we did we get here?


The CAPTAT has been stripped down for the purposes of this blog but if you want to assess your own team’s operating efficiency, consider how you (and peers) might answer the following questions.


Assign a 3, 2, or 1 point value for your responses with 3 = High, 2 = Medium, and 1 = Low.  Remember, you’re answering as a team member – not as the supervisor of that team.(We have a separate vehicle to align manager responses with participant answers.)


  • As regards the RESULTS this team generates both today and historically:
    • High – Medium – Low
    • Why? Comments/Observations ____________________________________________________________________________


  • As regards TEAM OBJECTIVES (my understanding of what WE must accomplish:)
    • High – Medium – Low
    • Why? Comments/Observations ____________________________________________________________________________


  • As regards my PERSONAL OBJECTIVES (my understanding of what MY role must be:)
    • High – Medium – Low
    • Why? Comments/Observations ____________________________________________________________________________


  • As regards the level of COLLABORATION on this team:
    • High – Medium – Low
    • Why? Comments/Observations ____________________________________________________________________________


  • As regards the level of TRUST on this team:
    • High – Medium – Low
    • Why? Comments/Observations ____________________________________________________________________________


  • As regards the level of COMMUNICATION on this team:
    • High – Medium – Low
    • Why? Comments/Observations ____________________________________________________________________________


  • As regards the level of clarity on ROLE ASSIGNMENTS for every member of this team:
    • High – Medium – Low
    • Why? Comments/Observations ____________________________________________________________________________


  • As regards my ability to ADAPT/MODIFY as needed and when needed:
    • High – Medium – Low
    • Why? Comments/Observations ____________________________________________________________________________


  • As regards our ability to HANDLE CONFLICT/DISAGREEMENT:
    • High – Medium – Low
    • Why? Comments/Observations ____________________________________________________________________________


  • As regards our ability to MOVE QUICKLY AND WITH AGILITY:
    • High – Medium – Low
    • Why? Comments/Observations ____________________________________________________________________________


  • As regards my FAITH that this team is and/or will be a high performing unit:
    • High – Medium – Low
    • Why? Comments/Observations ____________________________________________________________________________


  • As regards all parties’ EQUAL COMMITMENT to success:
    • High – Medium – Low
    • Why? Comments/Observations ____________________________________________________________________________



The above is the streamlined version of the larger team assessment. For the purposes of our article here’s an equally simple guide for you to “grade” your current work unit.


If your score is:

  • 32 or better – you’ve suggested your team is potentially High Performing. The results you’re generating and your history should reflect that level of collaboration.
  • Between 24 and 31– you’ve indicated a level of satisfaction tempered with a realism that says, “We can improve.”
  • Between 18 and 23 – you’ve suggested significant upside.
  • Less than 18 – you’re likely pondering the meaning of life – or at least the meaning of teams.


When we drill down into the data – to include the range of response and the text verbatim(s) that participants add – and then contrast that with the assigned leader answers we often have a tremendous baseline on which to build.


Don’t be surprised to see your overall assessment differ greatly from others – or to see radically different answers to key questions.  Remember, our objective is to establish an honest baseline across the employee base.


What have we learned from interviews and tools like the CAPTAT?

  • Great teams don’t just happen. It takes collaborative effort – and honesty – to build one.
  • The very best not only greatly increase productivity – they dramatically enhance worker engagement.
  • With principle based training and conscientious follow up an average team can quickly transform into an enduring, high performance work unit -even after the 11th grade.        


The questions that beg answers from every company:

  • What’s the quality of the key teams in your organization?
  • Why are they where they are?


The same question resonates for each of us. What do we plan to do about it?










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