Distilling team spirit

Distilling team spirit

Distilling team spirit

Finance | 26 Apr 2007

Paul Bennett continues his thoughts on how to get
a team to perform.

In the March issue of Charity Finance I highlighted some of the questions that may need to be answered when striving for high performance in a team. These questions are relevant whether you are in a giant corporation or a very small business delivering take away food. What is the team for, what is its purpose? What are they going to do? How is the team going to behave during its life cycle? Who in the team has the best answer to the problem?

There are a number of further questions that need to be addressed. Does the team believe in itself? The positive psychology movement have a compelling argument when it comes to team performance. The saying ‘if you think you can, or you think cannot, you are probably right’ certainly has weight when it comes to team performance.

When working with an international rugby squad recently we asked the entire team to describe the opposition and no one said beatable. You can guess what happened next. Inspiring optimism within the team and building confidence in the team members can produce huge performance benefits. Sometimes it is a question of challenging self-limiting beliefs. Before Roger Bannister ran his historic sub-four minute mile the belief was it could not be done. The same could be said of Neil Armstrong’s giant leap on the lunar surface. The simple solution may be to stamp out any doubts that surface at the onset of the team quest.

What does great team performance look like? The challenge for most business teams today is the pursuit of excellence often demanded by the business. The difficulty with this approach is that performance excellence often has no finish line. This poses several challenges for the team as they will need to somehow balance short and long term goals. A 100 metre sprinter has a completely different approach to a marathon runner. The team will need to know what is expected of them in terms of absolute performance at any given time. A possible start point could be to benchmark the performance criteria at each critical stage.

Perhaps the greatest example of this is the perfect 10 scored during the 1984 Olympics by the American gymnast Peter Vidmar. When asked by a business audience at a conference ‘how did you score the perfect 10?’ He replied: ‘First you have to score 9.4 to be selected for the Olympics. Then on the day if you are technically brilliant the judges will award you an additional 0.2. If you do something original, innovative they will give you another 0.2. The last and most difficult 0.2 will be given if the judges sense total commitment to your routine, despite knowing that if you get it wrong you could injure yourself’. In summary the delegate replayed back to Peter: ‘So let me get this straight. Are you saying for my business to score the perfect 10 all we need to do is be technically brilliant, innovative and committed?’ Peter politely replied: ‘It seems you have not been listening. First of all you need to get 9.4 to be selected’. In real terms this means the team needs to have the complete foundations of performance in place.

Finally, how do we generate team spirit? Often at conferences I ask delegates ‘what is team spirit?’ Rather oddly not many people have an answer. What we usually agree is that it is essential in any high performing team. We also agree it is like beauty, impossible to define but you bloody well know it when you see it. It is the magic dust that makes the difference between good performance and great performance. There are obvious high profile sporting and business examples we could draw upon but in reality no matter where the team is and in what sector of business, large or small, it operates, team spirit is essential. Without it there would be no heart transplants, no men on the moon and no crispy duck delivered just in time to watch the news and hear about the latest high profile team disasters.

Paul Bennett is client director at Henley Management College


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