This white paper discusses the 2009 results of a team dynamic survey conducted by TIGERS Sucess Series. Of 750 participating executives only 7.5% were from collaborative team cultures. These executives reported a much different dynamic. They were aware of their corporate core values and understood how leadership, employee behaviors and company policies either support or erode values such as trust and respect.

As part of a January 2009 study conducted by the Oregon consulting firm, TIGERS Success Series, 750 executives from both individualistic and collaborative company cultures participated in a survey about teams in the workplace.

The respondents were senior executives, team leaders or supervisors who would soon become team leaders.  They reported that the most frustrating team problems facing leaders centered on ineffective communication, conflict, employee motivation and corporate behaviors that were out of alignment with company values such as trust and respect.

Of the 750 participating executives only 7.5% were from collaborative team cultures.  These executives reported a much different dynamic.  They were aware of their corporate core values and understood how leadership, employee behaviors and company policies either support or erode values such as trust and respect.

In a new book by Dianne Crampton to be released in 2010 entitled TIGERS Among Us: Winning Business Team Cultures And Why They Thrive, collaborative principles such as trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk and success are explored within the framework of four successful businesses ranging in size from 10 employees to 1,300 employees.  The largest company, Zappos.com, was recently purchased by Amazon.com.

In each of the companies profiled in the book, corporate values are anchored by behaviors that build highly effective teams.  The companies discourage internally competitive behaviors.  They promote and reward collaborative behaviors.  They hire new employees responsive to collaboration, promote leaders who show collaborative behavior modeling and train and develop employees to assume leadership roles.   Skills such as effective communication, collaborative conflict resolution, employee coaching methods, mentoring and root-cause problem-solving are a part of company-wide employee training, compensation, and recognition.

These companies demonstrate daily how effective communication, conflict resolution, congruent company behaviors, and team-member motivation play an integral part in building an authentic team.

Effective Communication

Much has been written on how to improve communication.  Such topics as establishing communication procedures or learning how to talk with people who have a different personalities and learning styles has been well covered by trainers and consultants.  The key is whether leaders know what effective communication is so it can be repeated. They should know the type of communication they want to reward, and how to transfer appropriate communication skill development to every team member.

There should be a policy in place for on the spot coaching or some form of communication performance review and measurement geared toward improving communication skills company-wide.

The benefit of communication skill development leads to improved employee motivation and fewer procedural conflicts.  Left unchecked, procedural conflicts quickly escalate into goal conflict, which damages relationships and employee motivation.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict resolution focused on collaborative rather than competitive solutions empowers employees to participate in problem solving that often improves the work they perform.  This leads to improved motivation.

Often rooted in procedural errors, conflict is best resolved by looking to the root cause of the error rather than pointing fingers and blaming employees.  When the root causes of errors are resolved, mistakes become a valuable learning experience.

Some companies reward the team that solves the biggest error so that errors are not repeated and conflict does not escalate.  When conflict is viewed in this way, it becomes impersonal rather than personal with solutions that nurture employee satisfaction and motivation much like solving a puzzle.

Therefore, rewarding employees who report their own errors right away rather than hiding them tends to diminish conflict and improves quality.  When problems are viewed as a good thing, a team is able to learn and grow beyond repeating mistakes or pointing to fellow employers as the source of conflict.

Motivation

There is no program that promotes long term employee motivation.  If employees are motivated to achieve a goal and expect to be rewarded for the achievement, motivation drops once the goal and reward is achieved.  Employees are either internally motivated by enjoying work and doing a good job or not.  Hopefully, the people who hire them know how to distinguish between the internally motivated and externally motivated employee candidate.

Even the employee who loves to work and do a good job becomes unmotivated when trust and respect are repeatedly damaged.  These employees tend to look for another job due to the level of their internal motivation.  The unmotivated employees tend to stay on the job and continue to collect a paycheck.

Therefore, company leaders who pay attention to behaviors that build trust and respect among all employees tend to have a higher number of internally motivated employees compared to companies that do not. And, one way to learn what motivates employees is to ask them, which is a good leadership communication skill development exercise.

Here are a few questions to ask based on the assumption that the employee trusts the leader who is asking the question.

  1. What do you like about your work?
  2. What made you feel great about the work you did lately?
  3. Is pay or really liking your work more important to you?
  4. Is pay or really liking the people you work with more important to you.
  5. When you are able to improve how you do your work so you do a better job does this make you happy?
  6. What makes you happy?
  7. How do you like to be recognized when you do a job well?

Behaviors congruent with improving teams

Actions speak louder than words.  If behaviors are not in alignment with building collaboration, improving team dynamics is a daunting to impossible task.

Competitive practices splinter teams.  Collaborative practices and behaviors that anchor them, build teams.  Where companies get into trouble is in laying team expectations over an internally competitive culture with the hope that teams are the magic pill to treat a competitive malady.  Such is not the case according the TIGERS Among Us: 5 Winning Business Team Cultures And Why.

Ultimately improving a team is a process.  Skills that support collaboration tend to improve teams.