Teamwork Makes the Dream Work… But How? 

A few years back, I did a series of lessons in our Leading At The Next Level program combining some things that stuck out to me when I re-read John Maxwell’s book, The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, with several experiences I had lived through in my own career since reading it for the first time nearly fifteen years prior. While I certainly believe those provide some solid steps for crafting stronger teams, I think it’s time we take a look at the idea of teamwork from a different perspective; one that really dives into how it really can make the dream work… Before I get started on that though, I’d like to invite you to take advantage of this 14 day trial so you can kick the tires on Leading At The Next Level for just $1. With more than 80 lessons now in the digital library and two new live lessons shared each month just before we add them to the digital platform, all of which are approved for continuing education credit through the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI), I’d guess you’ll find far more that serves you than just those three lessons tied back to the laws of teamwork…

So how in the world can teamwork make the dream work? To that end, what does it take to make any dream work?

Cindy and I recently hosted the first session in our fourth annual Executive Leadership Elite Think where we work with 12 to 15 business owners and high level executives to build stronger leadership cultures within their organizations. At one point during the four hours we were all together, I made a comment about how important it is for me and CIndy that each of them be able to pull something from that time that translates directly to increased profitability within their organizations. Profitability is critical for every business owner I’ve ever met and no one in that group had any leads on where the rest of us could find one of those trees that all the free money grows on - not even the owner of Waynesboro Landscape & Garden Center… Heck, even the member of that group who works in the public section knew how important it is to work within a budget! (He’s clearly not in politics, huh!!!)

With that said, what does it take to make any dream work? In every scenario I’ve ever seen, it takes money! More specifically, operating in whatever industry we’re in and producing enough profit to fund those dreams! I realize some folks could argue this point, saying that investing time and effort into our dreams is just as important. I get that.. But I’m generalizing all of that into the idea of profit here because I believe those three things - time, effort, and money - have very direct ties to one another.

If you’re still tracking with me on the importance of producing a profit (in one fashion or another), I’ll challenge you to think back to a stat from the Harvard Business Review that I shared recently in Why is Employee Engagement Really Important referencing how much employee engagement can positively and negatively impact profitability; “organizations with a high level of engagement report 22% higher productivity.” You’re welcome to check out the details that back that statement on that same page if you like… My point here is that employee engagement directly impacts productivity but it stems from teamwork.

I recently found this statement in an article called Maximize Your Business Profit with High Performing Teams that ties the engagement directly to teamwork: 

19,000 worldwide workers found that employees who reported they felt a “strong sense of teamwork” described themselves as “fully engaged”.

With that as our starting point, let’s look at what we can each do to build the kind of teamwork in our organizations that really can make the dream work…

Everything Rises and Falls On…

OK, maybe teamwork can make the dream work with regards to helping drive profitability in our organizations… And maybe employee engagement and teamwork are directly correlated with one another… But how do these fairly fluffy ideas become reality and who’s responsible for making them so?

We’ll get to the HOW soon enough. Before we do though, I want to make sure we’re on the same page with the WHO

In a 2019 Gallup article call What Engaged Employees Do Differently, the author hits on the WHO by sharing this:

“It's part of a manager's job because Gallup finds that 70% of the variance in a team's engagement is related to their management. Managers create the conditions that promote the behaviors of engaged employees (or just the opposite) with the relationships they establish. The manager is either an engagement-creating coach or an engagement-destroying boss, but both relationships affect employee behavior.”

That’s strong medicine, especially if your team isn’t clicking the wish they were! It also falls in line with a comment John Maxwell shared in Leadership Gold about a manager’s impact on turnover; “Some sources estimate that as many as 65% of people leaving companies do so because of their managers… The ‘company’ doesn’t do anything negative to them. People do. Sometimes coworkers cause the problems that prompt people to leave. But often the people who alienate employees are their direct supervisors.”

I’m not about to disagree with either statement, but I don’t believe the responsibility for teamwork - or even employee engagement - lies solely on the folks who have supervisor or manager titles. Don’t get me wrong, they absolutely are responsible - they’re just not the ONLY ones who are responsible!

I remember having a conversation with a coworker nearly a decade ago where he was complaining about the performance of several supervisors at the facility we worked at; more specifically, some of the issues he and I were dealing with because of the performance of said supervisors. A large majority of my time at that point was dedicated to putting enough warm bodies into the proverbial revolving door to keep up with the ones who were jumping out the other side for various reasons - not the least of which was feeling alienated by their immediate supervisor!

While the fellow I was having the conversation with was indeed a manager, he didn’t directly manage the supervisors of the areas experiencing the issue so it wasn’t as simple as brow-beating them into submission. I had been working 12-14 hours each day for months on end at that point so my patience with the situation was even lower than normal. When he made a comment about his frustration with their immediate manager not holding them accountable, I was a bit more direct with my response than someone interested in career advancement should have been. I pointed to the two books on the shelf behind him, which I had loaned him months prior and he had never opened, and shared a statement that John Maxwell had made in each of them, “EVERYTHING rises and falls on leadership.” I went on to point out that, in his role, he had leadership responsibility in that organization whether the guys he was complaining about reported to him or not and that complaining without doing anything to address the issue was just perpetuating the cycle.

In complete transparency, I didn’t get much praise for making that comment - but that didn’t mean I was wrong either! For years leading up to that point, I had seen example after example of teams coming together around someone who was willing to accept responsibility for leading, regardless of position or title. Leadership isn’t earned from the sign on our door or the title on our business card. The kind of leadership that brings teams together and builds employee engagement requires more than the carrot or stick that too often accompanies authority so let’s take a look at exactly what earns it…

Good or Bad, Teams Rally Around This… 

If we were having this conversation face to face, I’m guessing you’d reply to what I just suggested by saying something like, “Alright Wes, if everything really does rise and fall on leadership, but you’re telling me it requires more than the carrot and stick status-quo, what else can I possibly do?”

OK, fair enough… That may not have been the exact question you would have asked but I sure would have asked something like when I was trying to differentiate between managing and leading! So here’s an example I remember watching unfold as one of the first examples showing me that the supervisor isn’t always the one leading the team…

I was probably 20 years old or so, working second shift in a manufacturing facility. One of the fellows from first shift in the same department had recently completed an associate’s degree at our local community college with some sort of business or management focus and had been promoted to supervise the crew I was part of. He had worked in that department for close to two decades prior to the promotion so he had some really long standing relationships with most of the folks on every shift. The fact that he was really easy going made for an even smoother transition - or at least you would have thought so…

As a kid, I remember more than a few times when I was given a limit on what I was allowed to do or have. I’m sure this comes as a huge surprise, but I also remember pushing that limit almost every time! I’m going to assume you can either relate to that, or maybe you’ve seen someone else push the limit even if you never did… 

With that in mind, I’ll ask you this: do we ever really grow out of that completely?

I’m fairly certain we don’t, we just choose the limits we want to push and when we’re willing to push them a bit more selectively. Well, most of us do…

There was one fellow in that department who started investigating our new supervisor’s limits almost immediately. He was constantly making subtle wise cracks in department meetings, spent just as much time away from the machine he was assigned to as he did operating it, and sometimes even openly challenged the supervisor in front of the rest of the team.

Having been on that shift for the entire time he had worked there, and having trained the majority of the folks on the shift, this guy had developed something with most of the crew that our new supervisor had not: Influence… While the supervisor was a really nice guy, his interaction with most of the second shift crew - mainly because that’s where the newer employees started out - was in passing and fairly limited. He hadn’t developed any influence of his own to speak of other than what came with his new title. And his reluctance to take a firm stance with the fellow who was routinely challenging him only ate away at the little bit of influence he had.

In that scenario, even though it certainly wasn’t improving employee engagement or profitability, the negative Ned on the shift did more leading than our supervisor because he had more influence. Be it for good or for bad, teams rally around the person with the most influence! John Maxwell didn’t qualify his statement in any way when he said that “Leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Fortunately, I’ve seen far more examples of people who have used their influence, even without a title or position, to do really good things for the teams they’ve been a part of! But regardless of how that influence was used, it didn’t just magically appear. Real influence, the kind that builds strong teams and drives employee engagement, is earned over time. In the next article I put together like this, we’ll take a look at some things we can each do to earn influence like that and build the type of teams we’re proud to lead as we do it! Until then, it may serve you well to work through a quiz we recently created that gives you some perspective on how well you’re serving the team you lead. (You’ll also get complimentary access to our digital course called Build a Reputation as a Servant Leader just for completing it!)

Are You A Servant Leader?

In his book, The Servant, James Hunter said, “A leader is someone who recognizes and meets the legitimate needs of their people, and removes all the barriers so they can serve the customer.”

Servant Leadership has become a bit of a catch phrase, but are you doing what it takes to be known as one? Take this quiz to see how you're doing and get complimentary access to our exclusive digital course called Build a Reputation as a Servant Leader - a $60 value that's approved for credit through SHRM  and HRCI.

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