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Team work


The Orange Revolution

By Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

Free Press, 271 pages, $28.99

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Team, team, team, team, team, team.

We hear the word repeatedly in today's workplace. Everything is a team, to the point where the word has lost its meaning. As consultants Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton trenchantly note in The Orange Revolution, "team" seems to have become almost a default word for "employees." Behind it, the writers see the cynical hope of workplace propagandists: Let's call them teams, and then we'll all get along better.

"It's gone so far that many teams in today's companies are not true teams at all; they're faux. Organizationally, structurally, motivationally, they are not set up to work together effectively. They're simply vague labels placed on random groupings or even the entire organization as a whole," they write.

Not that the authors are interested in generic teams anyway. Their focus is on what they call "breakthrough teams," and how to get them: high-powered, energetic, cohesive groups.

Members of breakthrough teams share a belief in their ability to write the future, rather than expecting it to be handed down on high from their bosses. They share a common cause that unites them and fuels their work.

The members have an expectation of personal competence: they hire people who have it, they nurture it, and they fire someone who lacks it. The team leaders are strong on setting goals, communicating, giving and sharing trust and accountability. These leaders also understand the importance of recognizing good work by their teammates (a topic that has been the central focus of a series of fine books by the authors, revolving around the theme of carrots as inducements).

Here they set out three elements that are vital for successful breakthrough teams, based on their research:

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The wow factor

The team is committed, individually and as a group, to excelling - to wowing others with how great their performance can be. This is not, the authors stress, because they are some sort of "dream team" of superstars. Instead, it comes from a focus on "wow results."

The teams dream up truly ambitious goals; they believe in each other and what they can accomplish together; they take calculated risks but closely measure their results; and they persevere despite problems or conflicts that arise. They also tell stories to each other that exemplify what they are trying to achieve and hold everyone to the highest standards, not by spelling out specific metrics but by letting the stories shape the workplace culture.

No surprises

The teams communicate honestly and openly. They accept that there will be disagreements, and communicate through those to a successful result rather than avoiding problem issues. "On the great teams we studied, a culture of no surprises was ignited when team members became aware of, and learned to respect, each member's responsibilities and personal goals. In great teams members understood the difficulties each person had to deal with - professionally and personally," they write.

Team members are available to help each other; they seek, and offer, assistance. They are open to the ideas of their teammates. They also make clear to each other the goals, responsibilities and deadlines of everyone.

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Cheering section

Members cheer each other on. Members of such teams feel confident that others have their back (rather than are secretly plotting to stab them in the back). Scott O'Neill, who supervised a National Basketball Association marketing team that is featured in the book, told the authors: "If I know you're rooting for me, I have more licence to challenge you, to give you direct feedback, and provide suggestions. It eliminates the defensive mechanisms we all have inside." The positive spirit from this supportive atmosphere leads to a high level of camaraderie, where finger pointing and pettiness stops.

Having built their reputation through the carrot series of books, the authors turn all this into a somewhat laboured "orange mindset" and "orange revolution" for teams. But you can set aside the hype and enjoy their ideas for making teams more successful. The prescriptions are not surprising, but the tips and framework may help you to focus more clearly on how to improve your own team.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

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