Team Efforts: Smooth Dancing or Stepping on Toes?

November 30, 2016


How coordinated are team efforts in your organization? Do team members gracefully engage, solving problems and supporting each other, or are their interactions messy, frustrating or even chaotic? I’ve recently discovered that in many organizations, it’s the latter. I, personally, see it all the time but on a very different stage… literally.

I’m a working musician in my free time. I started playing guitar in the early ‘60s and began performing for audiences soon after. I’m a published songwriter with ASCAP. I’ve been a member of the Brian Raine band since ‘07 here in Denver. It’s a great team of exceptional, fun, values-aligned musicians with a slightly twisted sense of humor. We play country rock, mostly for corporate events, weddings and festivals throughout the Rocky Mountain Region. We don’t do a lot of public events. Spring and summer are our busiest seasons.

Band days are long but inspiring. Loading the trailer, driving to events, setting up gear (including PA and lights), sound checking, performing, then tearing down, loading the trailer and driving back to our headquarters means 12-14 hour engagements for very little money. We’re not in it for the shekels. We love performing and wowing audiences.

And They Danced…

What we notice while we’re performing are the dancers in front of us. Some people are line dancing, others are paired up, doing their thing. Some are exceptional dancers, they stride in rhythm to the song like they were of one heart, mind and soul. Most are really bad dancers, but they’re out on the floor, giving their best. The worst scenarios are when two dancers are of differing skills, one with rhythm and one without. Typically the lead dancer, usually male, grabs their partner’s hands and storms off. He’s not dancing in rhythm to the song; he’s just boldly driving his partner around the dance floor. His partner, usually female, has to pay close attention so she doesn’t trip, get stepped on, run into another couple, etc. It’s a train wreck.

If the female has rhythm and is attempting to guide her male partner to step on the beat, he can either accept the coaching or resist it. Usually, he resists. The female is left to survive with a deer-in-the-headlights look on her face, hoping for the best.

It happens all the time. It’s entertaining for us to watch, but it’s clearly not fun for both of those dancers.

Team Efforts

Unfortunately, this often happens in organizations as well. We’ve all seen it. Individual players do their thing, oblivious to the underlying “rhythm” of team efforts and oblivious to the negative impact their behavior has on production, service and engagement. I don’t think people intentionally make things difficult for others (Well, maybe a few do). Most people have a vision of what they’re supposed to do, so they do it. When those people don’t observe how well they’re serving their peers, and their behavior gets in the way of team efforts, it’s a train wreck. If team members see their role exclusively as applying their knowledge and skills to tasks, without willingly engaging in cooperative interaction and teamwork, more goes wrong than goes right. Yet if team members are only asked to “do their tasks” and are compensated for “doing their tasks,” the impact on others just isn’t relevant. Team efforts are not measured or rewarded, so they’re not thought of as important.

Changing the Tune

So, change the dance and change the culture. Make values, how people treat each other, as important as results. Consistently great companies like Ritz-Carlton and WD-40 formally define their workplace rhythm, treating others with trust, respect and dignity always, and hold everyone accountable for that rhythm. In organization’s like these, there are fewer stepped-on toes, fewer train wrecks, more innovative problem solving and more fun. Listen, observe and engage in a dialog to learn how to solve problems cooperatively and promptly. Take the time to laugh with your colleagues.

You’re going to be there anyway. Why not make your workplace smooth & productive?

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