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The power of teamwork


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I was watching the 4x100 men’s relay of 2004 Olympics, live on the television. A few days earlier the 100 metres event was held. Justine Gatlin of USA came first and the legendary Morris Green of USA came third. Shawn Crawford of USA, who was the gold medallist of the 200m, came fourth. In the relay team of USA in addition to these men, there was another person called Coby Miller. The British team was comprised of four average persons. Everyone thought that the USA team would win. I was shocked to see that the British team won the game. I was even more shocked to watch the lousy baton change of the US team. At the end of the event a journalist interviewed the US team. They were giving satisfactory answers about their individual performance. Finally the journalist asked the team, “Hey guys are you satisfied with the second slot?” The team was nonplussed. The timing of the British team was 38.07 and that of the USA team was 38.08. Timing of the relay is lower than the combined individual timing since there is no starting up time other than for the runner of the first lap. Recorded timing of both relay team members of the 100m final and of the preliminary events are given below. Morris Greene was the gold medallist of the 100m event of the previous Sydney Olympics and his timing was same in 2004 as well. USA:
  • Shawn Crawford (9.89 Final)
  • Justin Gatlin (9.85 Final)
  • Coby Miller (not available)
  • Maurice Greene
(9.87 Final) UK:
  • Jason Gardener
(10.12 Semi Final, Heat 2)
  • Darren Campbell
(10.35 Round 1, Heat 1)
  • Marlon Devonish (not available)
  • Mark Lewis-Francis (10.28 Semi Final, Heat 1)
What went wrong? What went wrong? The US team was focusing on the individual performance and their performance was very poor in the baton change in general and in the change between Justin Gatlin and Coby Miller in particular. When questioned by the journalist after the event, the US team was focusing on their individual performance and not paying any attention to the baton change. To win a relay, there should be a team spirit. Team spirit is based on trust, understanding, cooperation and coordination. There was a lack of trust among the US team members and that is why they look back prior to the baton change to see whether the other member was running closer. It was proved without any doubt that to win a relay, a team with real team spirit is needed. Results can be achieved even with average members. It is not necessary to have high performers.  If there are high performers and if there is no team spirit, the result would be poor. The same principle can be applied to business as well. The businesses we are running are not about rocket science. An average person can understand the mechanism. If there is a good team, results can be achieved easily. Focus on performance I know one organisation where at that time team spirit was at very low level. There was no proper coordination between the sales team, production team and the purchasing team. The ignorant chairman of the company who knew nothing about manufacturing wanted to increase the market share of the raw material purchases and this was conveyed to the purchasing manager. His performance was monitored based on the quantity he purchased. Incentives were given for the quantities purchased. The quality aspect was ignored and the production was hampered. Higher prices were paid for the raw materials and the production could not be sold at a margin. The result was a massive loss to the company. The CEO was not capable of coordinating the operation. Focus was on the performance of the individual and there was no focus towards the baton change. It was not monitored at all. Most of the organisations prefer to recruit high performers at various levels. When one is a high performer, there is a lesser possibility for him/her to become a good team player. High performers are very often associated with high egos. They are individualists in general, not collectivists. When one is having more achievements, one’s ego strengthens more. To become a good team player one has to control one’s ego to a considerable extent. One has to trust the associates. One should be humble enough and willing to be dependent on the associates. The leader of the organisation has to play a very creative roll if there are high performers in the payroll of the organisation. The responsibility of the leader is to bring all these high performers together. If they are allowed to perform according to their wishes, they will focus on running their lap and not on the baton change. Performance-based pay Performance-based pay can be effectively used as a tool to promote teamwork and to strengthen the baton change. Goals can be set in order to monitor the baton change. If the baton change is not done properly, indicators should be set to identify the lapse. Indicators can be set to identify whose lapse it was. In order to achieve best results the responsibility should be with both parties of the baton change. There are limitations of tools like performance based pay. Developing teamwork is an art, not a science. It is the responsibility of the leader to promote teamwork. Team spirit is a feeling that the members of that team are having. It is a sense of belonging, inter-dependency and cohesiveness. It is a strong family-like feeling of love and friendship. Team members should understand that the final goal can be achieved if and only if they work all together. Collectivist society Sri Lankan society in general is collectivist compared to the individualistic American or British societies. Individualism vs. collectivism is defined by Geert Hofstede as follows in his landmark book Culture’s Consequences published in 1980: “Individualism pertains to societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after himself or herself and his or her immediate family. Collectivism, as opposite of Individualism, pertains to societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, which throughout people’s lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.” It is proved that when the income level goes up, there is a tendency to move from collectivism to individualism. When promoting teamwork the leaders of the organizations can use this cultural bias in Sri Lanka positively. In Sri Lankan society, there are various formal and informal groups. There is a tendency to form a group or a clique consisting of close associates. Leaders should use this tendency to have cliques comprising of various departments and finally comprising of the whole organisation. Japanese management tools Japanese management tools like 5S or Kaizen are finally promoting collectivism and teamwork. The rituals associated with 5S encourage the members of the whole organisation to work together for a common goal. The informal behaviour promoted will encourage greater ties among the members of the organisation. This breaks the formal relationships among the staff members which are rigid and promotes the informal relationships which are flexible and strong. Good leaders promote team spirit by organising informal events where interaction within the staff members is promoted. Team spirit What is more important is having team spirit. Having average individual performers with good team spirit is superior to have high individual performers with poor team spirit as very strongly proved by the US 4x100 relay team at the 2004 Olympics. However the best combination would be high individual performers with high team spirit. At national level, how can we demonstrate the power of teamwork? The present Government led by petty-minded politicians not by farsighted diplomats, whether they are learned or not, tries to be in power by putting much weight on Sinhala Buddhists only, which is a sufficient vote base for them and thereby encouraging further segregation of the country which is already divided by race, religion and caste. For our country to win the race we should solicit the support of entire team comprising of Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and all the rest of them living in this beautiful country. They who are collectivists by nature think on the lines of their religion, race or caste. The duty of the leadership of the nation, if there is any, is to enhance the petty-minded sectarian mindsets of the general public of this country to a level enabling them to gather the concept of nation rather than fishing in the shallow waters.  That is called nation building and not constructing roads and bridges as poorly conceived by the present regime. (The writer is a Chartered Accountant by profession and holds a Master of Business Administration degree awarded by the Postgraduate Institute of Management of University of Sri Jayewardenepura.)

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