A manager’s performance is measured by the results of his or her team. Great managers are always finding ways to energise, focus and motivate their teams to achieve greatness. Some managers are lucky to have a great team come their way: the ‘one in a generation team’ that some get. Others have to work hard to build great teams with what is available to them. So much is written about how this is done. In this short blog I look at another small element of this fascinating endeavour.
Before the recent world cup, the focus in the press was on Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar, Rooney, all undoubtedly great players. Some German players like Philipp Lahm were criticised in the German press for their ‘lack’ of leadership. It became clear early in the World Cup the performance of those teams built around great ‘superstars’ were unbalanced: dependency by some players on the few not on the collective. From a distance we can see the extra weight on the shoulders of Ronaldo, Messi and others. This lack of focus on an individual’s own responsibility has cost teams with great potential over and over again.
As Philipp Lahm said their team of “shared responsibility” gave them a clear sense of each individual’s vital contribution. Seeing the German team this year, we knew it when we saw it. It was a great team. It’s over now. Some have retired, some will continue. A new one will be born soon. ‘A new one will be born’ is an essential element of setting up a team to act with shared responsibility. The old Frisan word for team ‘Tam’ can be interpreted as ‘line of descent’ which is knowing that you’re current state is totally transient and finite. Every race is a relay race, someone has passed the baton to you and you will pass it onto someone else. Believing in this gives a deeper sense of purpose to your existence on the team. It also creates leaders in teams whose shared purpose is to achieve a specific shared goal rather than an overriding individual one.
Katzenback and Smith in 1993 said “A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they are mutually accountable”. Maybe we can take ‘shared responsibility’ or ‘line of descent’ under ‘mutually accountable’. Lopsided teams, reliant on individuals or those that carry poor performers will never be successful. Giving people the choice of accepting or rejecting their role to share the overall responsibility of the success of team is a must. This allows teams to be born with purpose. It also allows them to live with focus and die when the goal has been achieved.
The German national team used this sense of time, purpose, and occasion, all finite to unite them where each individual could summon all his skills, attitudes, efforts for the common good, for a greater goal. Knowing that each individual’s reward would come when all could celebrate. Living on borrowed time focused the mind and created a greater sense of urgency.
The challenge for every manager is how to create a sense of ending and beginning at the right moments so that teams can be born, live, die and be reborn again with shared responsibility and a shared sense of real purpose.