“On Team Building” Wiser Next Week for Business #6

10 Powerful Benefits of Teamwork in the Workplace

Wiser Next Week for Business is a follow up to the original Wiser Next Week. Similar to its predecessor, it takes the knowledge of many and condenses it into one categorized book. This time, rather than focusing on the reader’s personal life, the matters of work and career are discussed in greater detail.

Wiser Next Week for Business will be released chapter by chapter.


“If you can’t feed a team with two pizzas, it’s too large.” Jeff Bezos

Why it Matters: The old adage of no man being an island is true. Name any person who is well-known for achieving a worthwhile feat and you’ll find there were people backing them, whether it be publicly or behind the stage.

What is Management

Putting it simply, management is the act of coordinating a group of people to achieve a specific goal while accounting for ever-present change and uncertainty.1 Here’s an example: On September 11, 2001, airlines were forced to shut down for days while the rest of the nation recovered and came to terms with the recent terrorist attacks. This meant that all airline passengers, flight attendants and pilots were stranded in airports across the country as planes were being grounded. Instead of merely sitting and waiting like other airline employees, Southwest employees were encouraged to assist customers make the best out of the present situation by taking passengers bowling or to the movies to pass the time.

Countless airline companies started cutting jobs in the months following 9/11. The airline industry had been badly damaged. Many people feared traveling by air following the immediate aftermath of the attack, this led to many airlines being forced to cut their workforce by up to 20 percent. Instead of following the trend, Southwest announced only three days after 9/11 that Southwest would keep all of their employees and start a $180 million profit-sharing program for their employees. Southwest CEO James Parker believed that because Southwest had built its company on sound business principles for the past 30 years, they were able to handle crisis better than other airlines. By keeping and investing in its employees, Southwest was communicating to its employees that management and employees shared a common interest in the greater success of Southwest and that they were a team. Its mission is to provide the best customer service and provide equal opportunity to its employees. Southwest’s contrarian actions during the turbulence following 9/11 said to its employees that they were in it together through thick and thin.

What are Teams?

Teams: For team success, focus on psychological safety. This is a primary factor in team success. If you feel you can take risks and say whatever comes to mind without feeling insecure or embarrassed, you’ve got psychological safety. Your productivity will benefit as a result.2

Again, people run on pain and pleasure, if you take away the pain of punishment for stepping out of their comfort zone and taking a chance by putting their idea “out there,” the more likely the team will get an idea that’s sticky and viable. Creating a non-hostile environment is especially useful in encouraging quieter members of a group who have potentially viable ideas to share it with everyone else. Some key takeaways for promoting a place where people feel comfortable being free and open include:

·         Being welcome to curiosity

·         Promote healthy conflict

o When someone expresses a viewpoint that differs from your own, ask logical questions to get a better understanding of the reasoning behind their viewpoints. Then reconcile the two differing thought processes to form the most logical conclusion.

·         Give employees a voice

o Placing draconian restrictions on employees is a detriment to psychological safety, especially rules or infrastructure that limit communication. To overcome this, create liberal pathways to leadership, provide channels for feedback, and encourage conversation.

·         Think differently about creativity

o Build a culture around taking risks, where all ideas are encouraged, and unpredictable paths are embraced. The essence of this approach is having everyone feel comfortable sharing incomplete work, and then learning and becoming inspired through further development together. This creative process is one of trust and openness, where team members can be vulnerable without penalty.

Alliances and partnerships are crucial when you are new to an industry. When you are an unknown, having an “insider” by your side establishes legitimacy as well as allowing you to reach more people faster. Other people who are already well established within the industry spent a lot of hard work getting to where they are currently, if you build a mutually beneficial relationship with one another and at the same time doing so allows you to leverage the social capital of others, why not? Partners can include governments, competitors and individual experts in the industry among others. It will help you get off the ground much quicker.3 Take for instance the partnership between Barnes & Noble with Starbucks. Many avid book worms often describe perfect reading moments as reading on a rainy day curled up on a sofa with a book and a cup of hot coffee or tea. This common portrait makes the pairing of a bookstore and coffee shop a perfect match that helped Barnes & Noble survive as a brick and mortar bookstore when most others have been pushed out of the market due to the rise of the digital marketplace. 

Barnes and Noble was clever in this regard, they recognized the trends of the digital age, less and less people would be using bookstores as more and more commerce moved online. The bookstore company needed to adapt, and there was hardly a better way than by getting an angle in a booming industry. America runs on coffee, which makes it a great place for people to congregate and putting books in front of more eyes means more exposure. This is a mutually beneficial relationship for Starbucks as well, as people read and discuss their favorite novels and non fictions with one another in a coffee shop, they’ll tend to stay longer than a typical grab ’n’ go buyer. Longer stays then lead to more sales as well as more traffic from bookworms.

This type of alliance works on a smaller scale, as well. Think about a local coffee shop that is a community hub. An alliance with a local used bookstore can help each other expand respective markets. It might even be possible for the bookstore to have a coffee kiosk and the coffee shop to have a small book section. This is a prime example of cross selling, intermixing markets means more value added to buyers and who knows, maybe a niche market will be found along the way.

Showing Your Team the Big Picture

Let your employees use your own products and services, free of charge, so they can experience the value you create first hand.

For example, Chip Conley, founder of the Joie De Vivre chain of hotels, lets all of his employees stay at one of the company’s hotel locations for free, up to four times a year. This is more than just a vacation perk. It gives every employee a chance to live the experience they are usually creating for the hotel chain’s guests. This encourages employees to do their best, because they see the company’s mission a lot clearer, including what’s already working well and what needs improvement. It helps you employees connect with your end customer through taking a step back from their day-to-day tasks and looking at the big picture through the experience they provide.4 Cooking the continental breakfast or cleaning the room may seem insignificant to a person just trying to grind through the day, but the people living and eating in the hotels pay their salary. Being on the receiving end of the service reminds team members that what they do, no matter how insignificant or miniscule it may seem at the time, matters.

     Another instance can be taken from my personal experience working for a vendor at a local farmer’s market in San Francisco when I was in high school. While I was working as a cashier, some potential buyers would ask me how the food was and what it taste like. Having never tried the food first hand (and never thinking to spend so much money on a meal being a penniless juvenile), I managed to more or less dance around the question. The result would normally be a respectful nod from the inquiring person with them moving on to other vendors. My supervisor, who was also the owner, seeing these consistent encounters, decided to make a change. During the end of one of my Saturday shifts right before I was about to leave, he asked me to take some of the hummus wraps home with me. Being a lover of free stuff, there was no way I could refuse so I happily obliged. All the food was vegetarian, and when I was a teenager I especially loved meat so spicy hummus wraps were not exactly my cup of tea. I kept this to myself of course because I wanted spending money just like any other teen. Despite that, my employer giving me the chance to try the product allowed me to speak more convincingly about what organic, vegetarian food is all about.

Being the customer as well as the employee made me more relatable to the people we were trying to sell to. In hindsight, it would have been even more ideal if my then employer hired a vegetarian who actually would buy the food. In essence, this would mean finding your ideal customer and getting him/her to work for you. This is of course a lot more difficult as can be seen by how rarely it is done. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to pour juice into cups or smile and make change for customers, but having a team filled with people that would be your best customers means that they share in your big picture. And chances are they’ll talk and rave to their social network when asked what they do as their line of work is more than just making ends meet, it’s a form of “lifestyle employment.” When people make their living by doing what they love, they can’t help but spread the word. It means that in the long run, rather than just having someone who’s there to punch the clock to get their paycheck, you’ll have people that will go above and beyond to further the interests of the group.

Who Said Business Means No Friends?

Every time you treat someone as a business contact, you lose out on making a true friend. Who’s to say that they can’t be both? Never approach someone with the angle of “what can I do for them so they’ll want to do something for me?” Just think like a true friend would. Take yourself out of the equation. “How can I help them?” The rest will follow. Help might not come from the person you help, but gradually, others around you will note the value you provide to others and your reputation will grow. As other people take note of how you make the lives of others better, more and more people will want to associate with you. When you come from a perspective of abundance, when you share your wisdom, ideas and knowledge freely, it will come back to you 10 times over. It may not be from those who you expected it to come from, but gradually your tendency to help others and not expect rewards to come back to you will become a part of your reputation. 

Your success is based more on the (positive) effects you have on other people rather than wanting an immediate reward for everyone thing that you do for others.  The former is sowing good seeds to reap a good harvest, and the latter is eating your seed crop. The fact of the matter is that people can more often than not sense a person who is not being genuine and are out only for themselves. These sorts of individuals typically don’t get very far. So stop “networking” so much and keeping things on a business level, instead, make more true friends.5

Build Your Team Around a Purpose

Purpose is a set of reasons for doing what you do. In the case of a group, it’s the sum of all shared beliefs and values among your team, as they relate to achieving your common goal. That goal might be something straightforward, like selling the most widgets any company has ever sold or the achievement of a numeric revenue goal, but ideally, it’s about something bigger, like making the end users feel special and that they have good taste. The former is focusing on quantity, the latter is building a brand that your entire team is a part of. When things take a downturn, which they inevitably will, it is the big picture that binds people together, not trying to hit a sales number. A common belief among the entire team, high or low, in what they are doing leads to people willingly doing more than they are told without the carrot (i.e. monetary reward) or stick (i.e. fear of getting fired). There must be more than a monetary reward to build the best team, money is an extrinsic factor that comes in short supply when times get tough, a firm belief in what the organization does is an entirely different type of incentive. The person intrinsically motivated will be more genuine and loyal to the group they belong to.

Since the goal is in the future, but your group lives in the now, your purpose should be like a bridge between the two. It becomes far too easy to get stuck in day to day repetitive tasks and lose sight of why you’re putting so much effort in tasks that seem meaningless at the time. Thus, if you can come up with a simple narrative as to how what you’re doing now will help you go from today to tomorrow and reach your goal, you’ll be able to activate those around you.

Take the furniture maker Ikea as an example. Their mission statement is, “To create a better everyday life for the many people.” One of Ikea’s main focuses is selling ready-made furniture at a relatively low price. The lower prices make Ikea an appealing option for college students on a shoestring budget. Instead of sitting on carpets, sleeping on floors and dumpster diving for discarded furniture (all things I’ve done), Ikea offers a low-cost alternative. It’s not anything fancy, but a mattress bed is better than a hardwood floor. Ikea recognized an unserved market, college students with tight budgets not able to afford basic furniture because of the high markups used by the market leaders. Bringing down prices lower to a point where your average college student can afford it was a win/win scenario for buyer and seller. If Ikea’s team members take the mentality of they’re not just selling furniture, but providing a bed for a young person that would otherwise not have one, then their day-to-day tasks of assembling furniture, restocking inventory and answering customer questions becomes more than just about earning a paycheck. They can then see how they are making the everyday lives of people better.

A useful tool to accomplish this is a short, catchy, maybe even cheesy slogan. Think of Nike’s “just do it.” It can be perceived as overly simplistic and cliché, but it works, because it’s easy to remember, and easy to repeat until it sinks in. Most people don’t like to overcomplicate things that they don’t put too much thought about, so use this to your advantage. Think of the phrase which condenses everything your organization stands for and is the uniting flag that brings everyone together under one purpose.6

If you want to be the leader of a group that is there to further the interests of the group, you must find a purpose that everyone who follows you can agree with. You as the leader have one main function in terms of managing a team: to further the interests of the group.7 Think back to the example of the management at Southwest during the 9/11 attack, instead of taking out record bonuses for themselves as other industry leaders sometimes do during times of crisis, they focused on the interests of their people instead. It would have been all too easy to do what everyone else was doing by firing employees. But they didn’t see a good reason to, just because there was a crisis didn’t mean that people weren’t doing their jobs. So instead they keep their employees onboard and started a multi-million dollar profit sharing program to let their team members know that every one of them has a stake in the company. Use this as an example of good leadership.

Takeaway: In order for a group of people to work as a cohesive unit most effectively, there has to be a common cause that everyone rallies behind. When things get tough, it is the big picture that keeps a team together, not monetary rewards. Equally important is that people need a feeling that their opinion matters and that they are important to the organization. This means that their viewpoints can be shared openly without fear of hostility, mixing and blending ideas will create new ideas that wouldn’t have been created by any one individual. 

  1. “The Personal MBA: A World-Class Business Education” Josh Kaufman
  2. “Smarter Faster Better” Charles Duhigg
  3. “Finding My Virginity” Richard Branson
  4. “Peak: How Great Companies Get their Mojo” Chip Conley
  5. “The Achievement Habit” Bernard Roth
  6. “The Culture Code: Secrets of Highly Successful Groups” Daniel Coyle
  7. “Superhuman Social Skills” Tynan

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