Communicator - Volume 3 No. 6 - December 2002
How to Get People to Work Together
By Dick Mooney
Many amputee support groups--usually all except the very small ones--have more than one person in leadership positions. There is a head person who may hold the title leader, president, chair of the board, or the like; and there are others who may be called officers, board of directors, board of trustees, or something similar. These individuals divide the labor in some fashion, either formally or informally; they meet periodically; and they are responsible for the group's progress toward meeting its goals--and sometimes, unfortunately, for the lack of progress.
For those readers whose groups are configured this way, I ask the following rhetorical questions:
The premise of this article is that 1), typically, the answers are not "yes," 2) things would be better for your groups if the answers were "yes," and 3) support group leaders need to think more in terms of teams than boards. My own experience is that many leadership groups tend not to be cohesive unless the leader takes affirmative action to employ team building techniques to change both the viewpoint and behavior of the group members. It's also my experience that team building can be difficult and time consuming, but the rewards can repay the effort many times over.
Teamwork can be defined as work done by a number of associates, each knowing enough about the parts played by the others so they can do their own parts effectively, subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole. It's kind of a long definition, but it tells us a lot. It has within it the keys to successful team relationships in everything we and our people undertake.
It tells us that good team players are content to do their parts. Implied in this statement is the fact that others are doing their parts concurrently, and that the parts must interact cooperatively to attain the common objective. It tells us that each member of the team must know what the others are doing, or cooperative interaction won't work. It tells us that personal prominence is subordinate to the team. Whether the job is blocking or carrying the ball, all must do the best they can without regard to personal heroics. It tells us that the objective of teamwork is the efficiency of the whole. At the same time it implies that the value of the whole produced by a smooth-working team is greater than the sum of the parts.
Probably the largest team in the world--and to my way of thinking, the most successful--is the symphony orchestra. On that team there are 80 to 100 members who, in the better orchestras at least, are all selected for their high level of competence. There is one leader (the conductor) and no one questions that person's authority to lead. Interestingly enough, the conductor plays the largest instrument in the world but is not allowed to control the instrument by touching it as can an organist, for example. The instrument is controlled not by touch, threat, persuasion, or intimidation but by everyone's devotion to a common goal--to make beautiful music. Each team member plays off the same music and the sole goal of the leader and each and every team member is to faithfully serve the interests of the music and their customers--the audience. Personal agendas are not allowed to interfere. The music and the performance are the only agenda items. Team members who cannot buy into the team's culture, those who do not perform well, those who are disruptive, or those who otherwise don't contribute to the team's common goal are soon replaced. And the team prospers.
I'll bet you never thought you would see a symphony orchestra proposed as a prototype for your support group's leadership, but read through the previous paragraph again and let me know if you aren't convinced that support group boards should be more like symphony orchestras.
Teamwork can cure a multitude of ills. Teamwork builds trust and confidence in the capabilities of the other team members. It eliminates uncertainty regarding the motives of the others. Empathy within the team often develops almost extrasensory ties between team members to the point that cooperative actions become automatic.
Meaningful work and worthy purposes bring teams together. Commonly understood goals give teams direction. When the work is important and the goals are urgent, they transcend personal animosity and petty bickering. Such irritants seem to disappear in the face of the team's concerted efforts.
If I've defined teamwork correctly, then my definition suggests a number of things we can do to help get our support group's leadership people to work more effectively together.
I should point out that it's possible to do all the things I'm suggesting here to build team spirit and to get people working together effectively, and some teams may still not learn to work as a unit. This is often because the behavior of one or more of the members is chronically dysfunctional, they refuse to subordinate their personal agendas to the group's, or their behavior otherwise so disrupts the group feeling that the team simply cannot function. This is a specialized problem and deserves specialized solutions.
Be careful about trying to boot disruptive people off the team. That may cause more problems than it solves in terms of stress and ill feelings among those who remain. Instead, I suggest that you enlist the help of an experienced organizational research and development specialist (some call these people "group facilitators") who can work with your team, help diagnose its problems, and provide advice on what to do. Some will actually work with the group themselves in a series of team building exercises. These folks can be expensive, but since your support group serves a worthy purpose without profit, you may be able to obtain competent donated services.
Finally, I'd like to give you a little checklist you can use to tell when good team spirit exists in your leadership group. The group is, indeed, united by its work when:
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