Skip the team talk; there's work to be done

Back in 2000, when newspapers still had money, I was flown out to California to spend a week in a Times Mirror leadership program for managers.

There was no ropes course, thank God, but we did have to blindfold ourselves and stumble around in some group exercise whose purpose I no longer remember. We had to figure out how to get our parties across the “water” in a variant on the old man-transporting-a-fox-and-a-chicken puzzle. And , though Myers-Briggs claptrap strikes me as what people in Mensa believe in rather than astrology, I can tell you with utter confidence that you should never, never, never assemble a team in which everyone is a J.

No doubt my lifelong distaste for all forms of athletic endeavor, compounded by being herded into an auditorium in high school to hear excruciating motivational exhortations by coaches, accounts for my lack of enthusiasm for corporate team building charades. I don’t wear T-shirts with slogans or polo shirts with logos, and games are for children or parties at which liquor is served.

Let me suggest to you what it takes for a manager to foster a properly functioning team.

First off, you build a team by doing the team’s work, the way an orchestra becomes a team by playing the music in rehearsal, not by pretending to be ninjas.

The manager actually does that work. He (picking an arbitrary pronoun) may not know how to perform all the tasks for which the team is responsible, but he knows some of them and performs them, working alongside the other members of the team.

He sees to it that the members of the team have the resources they need to do the work: training, equipment, supplies.

He gets rid of the Successories posters his predecessor hung on the walls and instead rewards high performance with money.

He also rewards high performance with public and private recognition.

He takes responsibility for his decisions and his mistakes, and he holds the members of the team accountable for theirs.

He spouts only the corporate cant that he is absolutely compelled to, and is otherwise honest with the members of the team.

He encourages voluntary (emphasis intended) activities outside work—potlucks, picnics, outings, after-work drinks—in which co-workers can relax in one another’s company.

He is a buffer between the team and the weasels and inflexible authoritarians elsewhere in the operation.

The thing to aim for is esprit de corps, not Little League.


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