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Playwright Henrik Ibsen wrote, “A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm. ” My version is: “A corporation is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm. ” Everybody ought to have a compass. Some of us share an attitude with the cartoon character Snoopy. He and Charlie Brown are standing on top of Snoopy’s doghouse when the cat scurries away with Charlie Brown’s blanket. “That cat has my blanket,” screams Charlie Brown.
“How are we going to get it back? ” Snoopy looks puzzled, “We? For years, American corporations thought that competition was the key to outstanding performance within the doors of the organization. Get everybody to compete for their bonuses, their commissions, and their jobs, and, the theory went, they’ll scramble with the ball. They’ll get fired up and achieve, achieve, achieve. But that’s not what has happened. That competitive spirit has fostered jealousies and resentment, low morale, and lower productivity.
Harvard professor and author Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter has dubbed these competitive environments “cowboy” management.
Cowboy management makes competition, rather than cooperation, a virtue. Cowboy managers and employees like to get out there in the wilderness with a few trusty pals and no restraints. They practice survival of the fittest for their product, service, idea, or department. But research has shown that this kind of competitive environment has not been effective. At (company), sure, we want to race against the clock to get the product to market.
Sure, we want to go up against our competitors’ proposals to our customers. Sure, we want to race against our own track record of performance for increased productivity.
We need to compete against the rising tide of economic troubles. We need to compete with the Japanese and the whole Pacific Rim. We need to compete with (name of competitor’s organization). But what we don’t need… is to compete with each other. Comedienne Lily Tomlin once quipped, “We’re all in this alone. ” But here at (company), we shouldn’t be. In short, we benefit from a cooperative, not a competitive, attitude between people and departments. And on some occasions, we may not even be aware that we’re working against each other.
Let me tell you a little story on (name of marketing manager) and (name of engineering manager). [Be sure to use names of well-known company leaders here who do get along well. ] It seems that (name) was having a horrible time carrying some heavy boxes of books when we moved into the building here. In fact, just as (name) walked by (name)’s desk, (name) threw his back out, dropped the box of books he was carrying, and fell to his knees with excruciating back pain. So (name), being such a helpful, compassionate sort of guy, offered to finish moving the boxes while (name) went to the doctor.
When (name) got back to work, (name) ran into him in the front lobby. “I finished moving all the boxes in and have the books all on your bookshelves for you. ” (Name) smiled. “Thanks. And I appreciate your help…. But I was trying to move them out to my car to take them home. ” As I said earlier, similar things have been happening too often lately between departments here. Unintentionally, maybe even unknowingly, we are doing or undoing each other’s best-laid plans. If you don’t believe we’re interdependent, watch what happens to a conference room chair when one leg falls off.
Now, the outside world may not know that our conference room chair has a leg missing. And our competitors may not know the chair has a leg missing. But I’ll guarantee that the person who tries to sit down in the chair will know there’s a leg missing. When departments around here are vying to see who gets credit for the idea and the results, we’ll know it. Because things will get really lopsided. People won’t sit in those positions for long. And those around them will be moving away because they don’t want to be nearby when the chair falls apart.
That’s a good picture of what happens when departments don’t cooperate. Everybody just stands to the side to see what happens. We have a circus, but nobody’s laughing. Team-building can’t be just a program around here. It’s got to be a way of life. Of course, everyone pays lip service to teamwork. “He’s a team player,” we say. Or the referral letter says of the applicant, “She’s makes a real contribution to the team. ” Believing in teamwork is like believing in apple pie and motherhood. We believe in it, but we haven’t always practiced it. That practice is not automatic.
Oh, yes, we have processes for teamwork such as profit-sharing, employee stock-purchase plans, and quality circles. These processes and plans should foster a team spirit because the reward is based on our pulling together as a team to make a profit—a profit that goes directly into our pockets. The idea is that since we have team ownership, we should jointly feel responsible for our company’s problems and profits. But those processes don’t always lead to the team spirit on the job every day. And that’s the issue here. To carry this goal of teamwork day to day, we’re changing the way we evaluate what you do.
We’re no longer going to evaluate and reward on the basis of building a departmental empire. Instead, our performance appraisals and our reward systems are going to rest on a much broader base. We’re going to look at the management of complex, interdepartmental tasks and teamwork efforts. We’re going to reward those people who mentor and groom their employees to assume more responsibilities elsewhere. We’re going to reward those people who spend time on buy-in and compromise rather than ultimatums and stalemates. We want to sponsor team players, not referees. Let me ask you mentally to take a scorecard and rate yourself on your team-building skills.
Teamwork isn’t easy. Ask any member of Congress. Ask any pro ball team. So we want to offer some coaching help—some goalposts and a game plan to get the ball between them. Here is (name) to give you the details of that new plan: [Call on the responsible person to speak, or you yourself incorporate details of training programs for team-building skills or new appraisal or reward systems that foster teamwork.
Then conclude the other individual’s talk or your own with the following comments. ] According to author Robert Allen in his book, The Challenge, “A network saves legwork. ” We need a network of people who talk to each other and who help each other, who solve problems together and who produce together. And it’s up to us as management to give you the framework and the systems to become a real team. You’ve heard our plans. We’re eager to put them to work. We think you’re the players we need to take us to the bowl game. We’re betting the bottom line on it.
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