Why Team Work Matters

By: Paul Schaller

CREATING A GREAT TEAM IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER BEFORE

Maybe you watched some NFL playoff football these past few weekends. I have always loved watching great teams excel in sports and the lessons learned at a young age about teamwork by playing sports can really make a positive impact on people who learn to work together for a common goal. The picture above is the Pittsburgh area Bellaire Place 13-Under football team from 1964, sponsored by "The Golden Cue" bar and grill, and organized by the kids themselves. Several of these young people went onto achieve some great things in their lives. Teamwork is a powerful thing!

Creating great team dynamics has been shown to positively impact results in any business and having a customer-centric team that can work well together is a must today. So how do you get your team to work together effectively and excel for your customers? Four key dynamics serve as the best foundation for having a great team in your fitness business.An expert in organizational behavior, Harvard professor J. Richard Hackman, began studying teams in the 1970s. During his decades of research, he uncovered some great insights: What matters most to people working together as a team is not the personalities, attitudes, or behavioral styles of team members. Instead, what teams need to excel are certain “enabling conditions.” In other words, the atmosphere we create in our businesses make a big difference in how teams function. The most essential part of leadership today is creating an atmosphere where teams excel.

Three of the enabling conditions Hackman identified included: (i) having a compelling direction, (ii) creating a strong structure, and (iii) having supportive context. These are all important factors and these three requirements demand more attention than ever.

More recently modern teams have become vulnerable to two big challenges when it comes to creating the right environment for teams to excel; “us versus them” thinking and incomplete information. Overcoming these two obstacles to create great teamwork requires a fourth critical condition: having a shared mindset. If you do not share a similar view of the world it is hard to overcome “us vs them” or to understand what information is relevant or not. This is harder today because teams are becoming more diverse.

The key takeaway is this: Though teams face an increasingly complicated set of challenges, a relatively small number of factors have an outsized impact on their success. Managers can achieve big returns if they understand what those factors are and focus on getting them right.

Having A Compelling Sense Of Direction

The foundation of every great team is a direction that energizes, orients, and engages its members. Teams cannot be inspired if they don’t know what they’re working toward and don’t have explicit goals. Those goals should be challenging (modest ones don’t motivate) but not so difficult that the team becomes dispirited. They also must be consequential: People have to care about achieving a goal, whether because they stand to gain extrinsic rewards, like recognition, pay, and promotions; or intrinsic rewards, such as satisfaction and a sense of meaning.

Creating A Strong Structure

Teams also need the right mix and number of members, optimally designed tasks and processes, and norms that discourage destructive behavior and promote positive dynamics.

High-performing teams include members with a balance of skills. Every individual doesn’t have to possess superlative technical and social skills, but the team overall needs a healthy dose of both. Diversity in knowledge, views, and perspectives, as well as in age, gender, and race, can help teams be more creative and avoid groupthink.

Developing A Supportive Context

Having the right support includes maintaining a reward system that reinforces good performance, an information system that provides access to the data needed for the work, and an educational system that offers training, and securing the material resources required to do the job, like funding and technological assistance. While no team ever gets everything it wants, leaders can head off a lot of problems by taking the time to get the essential pieces in place from the start.

Finally The Shared Mindset

Establishing the first three enabling conditions will pave the way for team success. But today’s teams need something more. Distance and diversity, as well as digital communication and changing membership, make them especially prone to the problems of “us versus them” thinking and incomplete information. The solution is developing a shared mindset among team members; something team leaders can do by fostering a common identity and common understanding.

In the past teams typically consisted of a stable set of fairly homogeneous members who worked face-to-face and tended to have a similar mindset. But that’s no longer the case, and teams now often perceive themselves not as one cohesive group but as several smaller subgroups. This is a natural human reaction: Our brains use cognitive shortcuts to make sense of our increasingly complicated world, and one way to deal with the complexity of a team is to lump people into categories. But we also are inclined to view our own subgroup, whether it’s our function, our unit, or our culture, more positively than others, and that habit often creates tension and hinders collaboration.

Focus on these underlying dynamics to help your fitness business team achieve more.

Teamwork makes the dream work.