• Dr. Zarmina Penner

Why Good Teams are Rare

In organizations, good teams are rare even if it may appear otherwise


More often than not, you find groups of people assigned to goals. Groups, not teams. To be in a good team is the aspiration of any person in any organizational context. We all have a profound human need to belong. The fondest memories of people working in organizations are about being part of a good team and achieving incredible goals together, under time pressure. The higher the pressure, the better.


What makes a good team, you might ask. In my eyes, these are the five distinguishing criteria of a good team:

1- Respect: Sincere respect is the creator of trust. Respect for the other translates automatically into good listening skills.

2- Loyalty: Loyalty is the caretaker of team trust levels.

3- Clarity: Clarity implies structural alignment and builds a holding space for teamwork.

4- Solutions: Solutions are evidence of a team that is working well, especially if they are win-win.

5- Resilience: Resilience suggests robust emotional management and translates into flexible thinking and action.


If you recognize all of the above in your team, then congratulations, no need to read any further. You are most probably already a good leader.


So why are good teams rare?

To create a good team, you will need a good leader in the most real sense.

A good leader understands the notion of working through people. A good leader can serve others and operate in a partnership of equals while remaining in the leading role. A good leader sees team members as they are, not skewed with false assumptions. A good leader allows good work to happen by getting out of the way. A good leader is above suspicion of any kind.


In a good leader, the surface reflects human depth. As a good leader, you can turn any group of people into a good team.


Concerning leadership, there are three stages of leadership maturity:

Stage 1- Novice: The leader that stands in front of people and describes from a distance in detail what needs to happen, assigns tasks, and corrects “homework.”

Stage 2- Expert: The leader that stands beside people, works with them, hands over some responsibilities, and helps out hands-on with expertise, experience, and leadership when required. 

Stage 3- Master: The leader that stands behind people, has their backs covered and lets them do their work with clear guidelines, professional and emotional support.

As leaders, we need to move quickly onwards from Stage 1, and not get stuck in an unproductive micromanaging leadership style. Stage 2 can be addictive, especially when we still require recognition and appreciation to feel good or maybe if we love working on content too much.


Stage 3 leaders are expert facilitators, communicators, and role models for what they preach. Sometimes it will be necessary for the leader to move back to Stage 2, but for a short space of time, for example, when resources are missing in the team.

You might say, we do have good leaders around, also Stage 3 ones, so why are good teams still rare?

If there are not enough good teams around, then that is an indication that something is still missing. 

Maybe this type of good leadership is still only skin deep. If we are observant and quick to learn, we can smoothly go through the motions and position and present ourselves as good leaders. We might even have sufficient business success to back us up.

Trouble is people always sense the truth. We are experts in assessing human nature. It is a survival skill.


Therefore, so-called teams remain permanently on the brink of becoming good teams. Going through the motions is just not good enough. Trust and authenticity go hand in hand.

In my work, I find that good teams are essential for sustainable business success. Frankly, they are indispensable. They are also the right level of granularity for implementing absolutely anything, including the business plan.


It is the team as a whole, not single individuals, that creates impact. For sure each individual contributes to the whole, but the force of a well-aligned team is exponentially stronger. Things move quicker forward with less effort required.


I sense that I am preaching to the choir here, therefore let me share the following because I think we all need to develop ourselves continuously wherever we stand. We also badly need more of the good and even better kind of leaders. Actually, we need heroes.


Going past the surface and practicing self-reflection and self-development day in and day out can be quite arduous, to be frank. There might even be pushback in your external environment when you demonstrate good leadership, especially if politicking, envy, and any other bad habits are prevalent. However, the fruits are plenty, especially in terms of life quality, inner freedom and true appreciation of those around you.


Here are six aspects of going past the surface that can give structure to the adventure:

1) Personality: Know your personality type, your talents, and potential weak points and use what you have well and appreciate your self. Use your talents and unique creativity.

2) Character: Know your style of behavior and balance it out. If you are a taker, give more. If you are a giver, take more. Be kind.

3) The Vision of your next best self: Define the leader you want to become in two years. Which leaders do you admire? Observe them and emulate aspects you admire. 

4) Values: Define your values. Aim high and use them for all decisions. Put them somewhere where you can see them every day. Use them.

5) Mission: Find out what motivates you, makes you happy, and satisfies you. Revolve whatever you do around it.

6) Feelings: Consider your feelings as your allies. Don’t push them away. Use them consistently as valuable biosensors. Know what events trigger an unproductive mood in you and don’t let your feelings become emotions that hold you captive. Don't project your unresolved personal issue onto others. Emotional mismanagement is one of the biggest stumbling blocks. Become resilient, stay conscious and cool.


Becoming a good leader is an inside job. External circumstances are practically irrelevant for becoming a leader who can create, develop, and lead a good team to success, in any organization. This conclusion is not banal, nor is it cliché. I know this for sure.


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