I wrote recently on the collision of worlds created by marriage, and about the need to shift priorities, quite radically, to come to a fulfilling place. I would like to extend that discussion into the workplace and kick it around a bit. The “collision of worlds” in the workplace happens in the context of team environment – new employees joining, promotions, new projects etc, where people have to work together with people they are not necessarily aligned with.
I guess these thoughts probably also apply to sports team, social teams, communities and other places where team work is required to get things done!
Remember that old saying “Lead, follow, or get out of the way”?
I often come across teams that are dysfunctional to various degrees, and one of the commonalities between them all, is the presence of too many supposed leaders – or at least, too many ideas about where to go or how to get there. I am not talking about the “leader” leader, the person responsible for the team… I am talking about the other “leaders”, the ones whose actual job is to follow, but they have a desire to do more than that, for good or not-so-good reasons…
No matter the structure of a team, from militaristic to self regulated, there is person, or a system, that creates a set of values and priorities for that team. Those values and priorities are not easily re-negotiable, for good reason. They are the team fundamentals. They may never even have been discussed, or agreed formally, but they are there, and they are central to team effectiveness.
When people are placed on a team, there are the usual set-up dynamics (Tuckman’s “Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing” or whatever theoretical construct we want to use) and the team is supposed to get through to the Performing stage. And then add value.
This requires that people are comfortable with designated roles, but the most common trend I find is that people ACT happy with their roles, but there is a great deal of deep seated discomfort, and people always try to manoeuvre back to the kind of role they believe they should have. This is where the difficulties can arise.
Hence my title : “Just Grab an Oar”.
To be effective in our employment, we need to be good team players. I can’t and won’t speak for the politicians amongst us, who power monger their way up the ladder – quite frankly power-mongering disgusts me. But that is not to say workplace politics per se is wrong – it is not. It is very necessary. But it is not “power-mongering”. It is influencing, yes, but it is honest and based in performance and trust, not deception.
If you want a reason to be a good team player, just read any biography of a respected leader. There was a time, when they were not the leader. Almost without fail, part of their current or eventual success was the fact that they knew, or learnt, how to follow effectively.
What is a corporate team player? And I mean one whom I believe stands the best chance of advancing based on talent and influence?
If we are placed in a team that we think we should lead, but we don’t… just grab an oar.
If we feel the vision is wrong… just grab an oar.
If we feel the priorities are wrong… just grab an oar.
If we feel the workload is unfair or badly distributed… just grab an oar.
If we feel that the team is not ideal… just grab an oar.
Whatever is grinding us, we will have much more credibility if we first “just grab an oar”, and row. Row for all we are worth in the direction we have been given. Then when we have a clear reputation as a team player; when our leaders trust us because we followed well; when we are known for delivering, and supporting, and helping the team to achieve the best it can, then , and only THEN, can we influence with credibility and respect.
No leader initiating a project or leading it through challenges, wants to deal with negative or political animals that distract from the task at hand. People with their own agenda’s and not with the teams agenda at heart, are a distraction, a “weak link”, and I am not overstating it when I say they can easily be regarded as a curse.
The first and best thing you can do, understand the vision and priorities as they are. Understand the overall project and your piece of it very well. Understand the team dynamic and its strengths and weaknesses.
Then, grab an oar. And row like crazy. The rest comes later.