I watched as five men attempted to load a huge tree trunk onto a truck. They didn’t have to lift the entire trunk off the ground, but raise the end furthermost from the truck and then drop it (head over heels) onto the back end of the truck. This way, one end would still be on the ground and the other would rest on the truck. Then they would lift-push-pull it all the way onto the truck. They didn’t want to cut it into small logs as then the value of the wood would drop. Besides the effort, there was a real threat of losing life or limb as the ground was uneven and covered with gravel (making their footing unstable), and space was also a constraint. Their first two attempts failed. I was tempted to offer help but realized (a) it was out of my league and (b) they were a team and understood each other – if I pitched in, I’d be a liability. Thankfully, on their third attempt, they succeeded.
If I were to guestimate the weight of the log and their individual strengths – they were way short of the strength required. Also, all of them were not equal in size, strength or capacity (one of them was a star – by far the strongest); but all of them gave it their all. That’s the beauty of teamwork – you achieve more than what one can individually achieve. I, for one, am not a born team player, I’m more of a loner (introverted too), but I am well aware hat without a team, I am nothing. This goes for personal achievements too – family, friends, neighbors, teachers, watchmen, car washers, mentors… each contributes in some way, directly or indirectly, to allow me to grow, progress and succeed.
As a trainer, I work with multiple organizations simultaneously; this exposure has allowed me the luxury of evaluating teams and stars. My belief is you need stars on a team, but they must be team players. They must be rounded enough to realize that without a team, they can’t achieve much. If stars allow their ego to show, they end up antagonizing, demotivating and sowing an inferiority complex – in short, their attitude is cancerous. I have worked with star managers and they are the most toxic.
Psychologist Bruce Tuckman studied how teams go through stages of forming, storming, norming, and then performing. Time was when attrition was low, and teams had the luxury of time to move from forming to performing. Today, attrition is high and the demand for quick results is even higher. Some organizations evaluate team performance every two weeks; immaterial of attrition.
Today, organizations don’t just put together teams and pray that they will be able to work things out and deliver. The team leader (not manager) appointed is expected to coach and mentor the team – get the best out of them individually and collectively. His/her role is to eliminate barriers to progress (external or internal), provide resources, and ensure an atmosphere conducive to producing results.
Organizations also use outbound team-building activities to help bolster teamwork. I’ve been doing team-building since 2003 (thoroughly enjoy it), but I’ve witnessed a sea change in the attitude and expectations of the client. Earlier, team-building was an excuse to take the team out – official picnic – as they anyway got along to a large extent. Over the years, that has changed and the post-pandemic scenario has catalyzed a drastic change. Today, when we conduct an outbound, I notice they don’t even know each other’s names – blame it on work-from-home.
Organizations today also demand learning outcomes like ownership thinking, tackling the VUCA environment (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity), or stressing on common culture/values with companies that have been acquired or merged. Recently, my good friend HS Bhatia, President and CEO, IPISPL (a logistics company), dropped a challenge before us. Customer retention as the learning outcome, no repeat simulations (games that imitate corporate life) – we have done programs for them before, and 120 participants. We curated the program Customer OSCAR (Outreach, Secure, Care And Retain) and built four major simulations that highlighted the value and importance of customer retention (no matter the size of the ticket), and how teamwork is imperative to achieve this.
All our simulations worked as planned; until WooshBall. WooshBall is a simulation in which two teams play rink football while holding on to an anchored horizontal bar (rails) – this allows them to move laterally but prevents them from moving forward or backward. We had planned it outdoor but due to the rain, we brought it indoor – naturally, my decorators (Mandap team) had to do the setup twice – they happily cooperated. Now, this simulation too was obviously new and untested. We (Team Woosh Biz by HTI) underestimated the players’ aggression – a huge mistake. In their eagerness to score, players strained against the rails – which put them and the rink frame under tremendous pressure. To prevent the rink from collapsing, I requested the spectators (participants who weren’t playing at that time), to hold on to the sides. However, between each game (round), I requested the decorators to refit the rails and reinforce the frame – they did this fast and happily.
What was a sure-shot disaster turned into a super hit! Not because my team and I were stars, but because our vendor and client teamed up with us to make it happen. This was a great example of teamwork. Don’t for a minute forget that your team is not just your colleagues, but includes your clients, consultants and vendors. This learning was highlighted to the participants during the debrief – and that’s the beauty of simulations demonstrating the learning unforgettably.
Success is your companion when you bring more people onto your team. Teamwork really makes the dream work.
Dominic CostaBir, Director, HTI & Woosh Biz, is an alumnus of IHM Mumbai (1990). He has over 2 decades of experience in Learning & Development.
Published first in ET Hospitality.