Building Teamwork is Not About Fixing Feelings

A manager – let’s call her Sarah – was instructed by her boss to find ways to improve teamwork in their complex working environment. “People don’t collaborate,” she explained. “People don’t talk with each other about things they need to know.”

The whole group was about 45 people, but they are segmented into 7 different functions and specialties:marketing, publishing, business services (the internal client), and so on. Each specialty had its own language and practices, which can look a lot like their unique “turf”. How to support clearer and more timely communication?

Sarah was reluctant to use the “structural” tools we recommend, such as revised meeting schedules, clearer meeting agendas, and visible “Goal-Progress” posters (online or on the wall). She insisted that “people have to understand what things the other groups need, and more meetings will not be the answer.”

She was especially resistant to using a larger goal to create a shared context for the whole group. But Sarah agreed to meet with each group separately and ask them this question: “What information about our projects and goals are you NOT getting when you need it? What are you missing from other groups?”

Sarah did the research, talking to at least two people in each group, and she was surprised to learn that each group had a “complaint” about at least one of the other groups. “But still, it’s good news,” she said, “because now I know what people really need from each other. I thought our group was the only one having problems, but they are all wishing they had better information or more on-time information about our projects.”

Sometimes a little research is needed to find out what requests and promises are needed to connect a network of groups and teams. Sarah wanted people to “feel better first”, and she was sure they would then spontaneously deliver the right things at the right times. Teamwork doesn’t work that way. Team members – whether individuals or groups – need to know what is expected – and by when – from  each of their internal customers and partners. The “feel better” part comes after the accomplishment of successful delivery.

Next project: Have Sarah find – and use – a shared measure that lets the Team see that they are, in fact a Team, and not just a group of people sending things to each other.

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