The spirit of teamwork | By Dr Abdus Sattar Abbasi


The spirit of teamwork

BUILDING effective and efficient teams has always been the dream of every organization because it is generally believed that teams can achieve more than individual contributions utilizing same facilities and technological interventions.

We usually observe proverbial examples of creatures other than the human beings exhibiting spirit of the teamwork, one of those we will discuss little later in this article.

But here is an interesting example of ants which exhibit iconic self-disciple, we can certainly learn from them to carry out our work devotedly without anyone watching over us.

With this ability, the ant is able to do its work dutifully irrespective of any prevailing circumstance and don’t run away from difficult or unpleasant tasks.

The story of ant in Qurân tells us interesting aspect of comprehension and understanding of ants, “Then, when they reached the Valley of Ants, an ant said, ´Ants! Enter your dwellings so that Sulayman and his troops do not crush you unwittingly.´” It means their self-control is based on certain awareness which we still need to explore.

Anyhow, according to the Stockholm University, “Humans possess many cognitive abilities not seen in other animals, such as a full-blown language capacity as well as reasoning and planning abilities.

Despite these differences, however, it has been difficult to identify specific mental capacities that distinguish humans from other animals.

Researchers have now discovered that humans have a much better memory to recognize and remember sequential information.”

The iconic v-formation flying of geese presents interesting behaviours that help geese to be more effective and efficient team members.

While flying together when each bird flaps its wings is actually creating lift for their fellow birds allowing them to fly with fewer efforts.

Geese take turns leading, according to Chris Spencer, “Doing this ensures everyone’s skills, talents, knowledge or experience are used and no single person fields all the hard work. In an effective team, it is everyone’s responsibility to function as both leader and supporter.”

He further argues, “Geese can be heard honking loudly while they fly. Scientists speculate that this honking is a way to communicate with and encourage the flock on their long flights.

The geese in behind honk at the ones in the front, to encourage them to maintain their speed and keep flying towards their goal. Encouragement helps your team to be engaged, supportive and constantly moving towards success.

The purpose for your team is more than just what your goal is; it includes the culture of the group. Let your team members be a guide to new members in learning the mission, culture and goal of the group.

Encourage your team members to share experiences and learning that they have come across in their work and encourage new members to learn from their comrades.”

But human teams have always been under scrutiny due to several challenges. Human beings have different perspectives, varied interests, variety of personality characteristics, array of ambitions and innumerable suspicions.

It is probably the outcome of human ability to remember life events and recognize consequences that surround human personality with different fears ceasing him extend heart and soul to collectiveness.

The good thing is that experience, reflection and analysis enabled human being to determine key factors for the success of teams in our organizational lives.

Despite the fact that when we think about teamwork there is an assortment of thoughts which floods our minds both positive such as working together, achieving common goals, and having fun; and negative including personality conflicts, difficult communication and time-consuming meetings.

We need to understand that a team is a group of people who are mutually dependent on one another to achieve a common goal entailing both certain advantages and a few disadvantages.

Advantages include: better ideas and decisions, high quality output, everyone’s involvement in the process, increased ownership by team members, understanding other’s perspectives, better implementation and more information.

There may be some disadvantages such as devoting more time, frequent meetings, little longer to take decisions due to varying team dynamics, lack of individual recognition, stress due to conflicts and disagreements among team members, role ambiguity and group think etc.

Where all aspects need special attention generally by all team members and particularly by the team leader, however, conflicts and group think are probably significant difficulties which teams encounter.

If managed appropriately, conflicts are, in fact, essential to a team’s creativity and productivity. Both effective and ineffective teams experience conflict, the difference is that effective teams look at conflicts positively and manage constructively.

Healthy conflicts force a team to find productive ways to communicate differences, seek common goals, gain consensus and encourage a team to look at all points of view, then adopt the best ideas from each.

In this manner conflicts increase creativity by forcing the team to look beyond current assumptions and parameters. A phenomenon called ‘group think’ can limit innovation.

Group think generally occurs when a team has been very successful and begins to believe that it will never fail. The team begins to do things on the suggestion of a single member, without question.

Unfortunately, you won’t know that group think is occurring until a disaster occurs e.g., Space Shuttle Challenger’s tragedy on 28 Jan 1986 which was the consequence of the ‘group think’.

Open and clear communication is probably the most important element to upheld the spirit of teamwork; probably every problem faced by a team can be traced back to poor communication.

Good communication is the key to keeping a team informed, focused, and moving forward; while listening is the key to maintain decent communication among team members.

Effective decision-making, utilizing methods such as consensus, majority rule, expert decision, authority rule with or without discussion and minority rule etc., facilitates teams to perform better.

A bit of expertise in using tools for effective decision making like force-field analysis, pair-wise ranking matrices and multi-voting techniques can provide sound basis for quality decisions in a team.

Valuing diversity, ensuring participation and building trust can be considered cornerstones to sustain and endorse the spirit of teamwork in any setting.

But trust is not built overnight; it demands honesty & candidness, accessibility & openness, positivity & tolerance and reliability & uprightness among all members of team particularly in dyadic relationships of team leaders.

Sometimes people instantly develop trust but some other times people wait for their evaluations, look at the histories of individuals, put people into tests and then accord their trusts.

Therefore, the spirit of team demands from all team members including the leader to build all their procedures, expectations and interpersonal relationships on trust to develop thriving teams.

—The writer is Associate Professor Management Sciences, Head, Centre of Islamic Finance, COMSATS University (CUI) Lahore Campus.


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