In the 2004 Summer Olympics, the Australian Women's Eight rowing team stood in fifth place, three seconds behind the leading Romanian crew team 500 meters from the finish line. When the Aussies were inside 400 meters, one of the eight women quit rowing. She dropped her oars and laid back, resting her head on the lap of the rower seated behind her.
As a result, the Aussies finished dead last, 10 seconds behind the next closest finisher.
Ever feel like one of your teammates isn't pulling their weight in your company? Letting the side down? Whether it's a male teammate or female, and regardless of whether their failure stems from private issues or a problem they have with working under a female leader, it doesn't change the fact it creates a problem for you that must be dealt with.
How do you feel when company leaders fail to hold team members accountable to their performance? Or worse, they call a meeting to preach to the group about teamwork, working together and supporting one another to get the job done? And the individual "problem" isn't paying attention?
And what about you? Is, wanting to be accepted and respected as a female leader making you wary of rocking the boat? Are you inadvertently making allowances, making excuses, giving one chance too many? Or are some of your "rowers" relying on your forgiving feminine nature and playing you?
It even happens at the Olympic level of teamwork because this was not the first time this woman quit on her team. She did it just two years earlier in the World Rowing Championships.
In all “team” sports one person’s individual performance makes a dramatic difference in the team's performance. This Olympic rowing example is just one of them and offers a great example of what happens in business when individual employees fail to perform to expectations.
The challenge in business is that few company leaders really understand the concept of "teamwork." And, that’s understandable because the concept of teamwork is amorphous. It's much like "pornography" as defined by Justice Stewart in Jacobellis Vs Ohio (1964) when he said, "I can't define pornography, but I know it when I see it."
Teamwork may not be easy to define, but we know it when we see it. And it provides a tremendous sense of fulfillment when we experience it.
Teamwork, in a business sense, just like an Olympic crew team is about everyone "rowing together" with every individual pulling their own weight by fulfilling their individual, and sometimes unique, team role. It is the synergistic effect of individuals doing what is required of them, individually, that results in desired outcomes being achieved and goals being met.
So where does teamwork come into it then? Does it exist?
It does, if we change how we look at teamwork and understand that it is the result of individual unique efforts combining to achieve a predetermined goal. It does not exist if we continue to define teamwork as a group of people who spend time together in the work environment in meeting after meeting to discuss their "team goals" or to create that sense of "team spirit," or to wait to watch for that perfect project to be handed off from one department to another.
It’s vital for business leaders today, male and female, to look at "teamwork" in a much different way. Such as the way a client in a recent workshop defined “teamwork” as…
“a series of individual, interdependent successful efforts.”
The key to great teamwork in business, and athletics, is to have everyone knowing what is expected of them and fulfilling that responsibility to the expected standard of performance. It is the successful result of fulfilling their unique role and responsibilities, combined with everyone else in the department or company doing the same that results in great teamwork.
Looked at in that perspective, you can see every employee as a "rower". If one person drops their oars, or fails to follow through when others are counting on them, it means those relying on them can't complete their own tasks. It has a domino effect. Most all of us have experienced something similar at some point in our life when working on a team.
But, this is not the failure of “teamwork. To blame a lack of teamwork will cause a leader to be forever frustrated. Leaders must understand that “Teamwork never fails, individuals fail teamwork.”
Thus, you can see why your primary job as a leader is to communicate to the individuals on your team to ensure buy-in and commitment to their individual unique role and expected performance accountabilities in a way that allows them to connect the dots so they want to make teamwork work!
president of Weisman Success Resources, is a business coach and consultant specializing in “Creating Championship Teams.” Skip spent 20 years in sports management during which he served as president of five minor league professional baseball teams. Early in his baseball management career he became Minor League Baseball's youngest general manager at the age of 26. Twice his teams were recognized as "Organization of the Year," once each by "The Sporting News" and "Baseball America." Skip currently writes a column for the Hudson Valley Business Journal in his hometown area of Poughkeepsie, New York. He has a b.s. in communications and a master's degree in Sports Administration from Ohio University. See www.weismansuccessresources.com.