Sunday, June 20, 2010

Working for a better good

National teams
I was discussing over lunch with a friend the challenges of building a good team for the World Cup and I was arguing that the problems there were basically the same as in any other team. And that, much like any other team, there were some specific issues with a National Team which we then agreed that at least were:
  • making a football star look beyond his belly button
  • in a very short time, fitting together different habits, skills and styles that each player has
  • taking away the arrogance from someone who is a young man that earns more in a week what someone else earns in an year
But then, after a couple of days this conversation took place, it suddenly struck me: actually, even these specific issues are not different from what happens in the office. Ah ha!... in fact, the same problems take place in the office and with the same root causes - they just take place in a different context...
Do you agree? No? Keep on reading then...

What is a team?
Putting it as simple as I can, a team is a group of people working for a better good. It works in a pretty simple way. Just imagine you are standing in front of these guys...
Do you feel comfortable? Afraid? Feel like running away from them as fast as you can? Why's that? Why do they look so mean? For starters, they look pretty focused on the same thing, don't they? And seeing all of them so focused on you makes you wonder if this is the best place for you to be...
And then they don't seem worried about themselves, do they? On the contrary, they look like they have a mission to do and there's nothing going to stop them, they have something bigger then each one of them. And if there was just one of these guys in front of you he would probably look ridiculous but all of them together it's completely different - the only word that pops on my mind is power: they have the power to do whatever they are set to do! And they're showing it to you to intimidate you - this is performed just to you. They show the will to go over anything in order to get what want and build a high obstacle that you must be prepared to overtake if you face them. Also, they're giving you the chance to turn away - and call you yellow if you do.

This is what the All Blacks do, they are the New Zealand rugby team and they mean business... just watch this to feel the power of this demonstration called the Haka. And pay attention to the opposite team: they are hugged, some can show a bit of contempt but they look like they're ready to call for their mommy...
And for last, this has absolutely nothing to do with what they are about to do - playing rugby. It has to do with something on the side - they are a team.
An all of this just because:
  • they are focused
  • they are not thinking about themselves
  • they are highly motivated
  • together they are more then just the sum of the individuals
So how do you turn a group of people into a team like the All Blacks? How do you go from the first picture (the Portuguese team, looking kind of relaxed) to the second (the All Blacks, focused on wining)? How do you go around the challenges that arise on building a National team, football, rugby or whatever? And does it have to do with your team at the office?

Making a football star look beyond his belly button
How do you do it? Imagine you have Cristiano Ronaldo (a star Portuguese football player) on your team. Would you yell at him like the other football player on the picture? Well, probabily not. Yelling at him wouldn't motivate him to look beyond his belly button. And we all have stars working with us at the office that have a hard time looking beyond their belly buttons. Technically they are called prima donas. The first thing I want to argue is that prima donas are the same either if they are a football star or a star programmer as far as the team is concerned. Although each has their particularities like a different pay at the end of the month they tend to be individualists, think highly of themselves, they don't consider other team members as high as themselves, they rely on the support of others to reach their individual goals and so on.
Think about one of the prima donas you know, is he/she much different then this? How would you turn this the other way around? How would you make that prima dona in particular consider the team? And think highly of the team? And support others to reach the team goals?
Suppose you have a team with skills and capabilities that your star programmer doesn't have. Suppose that it's obvious that the team is going far, they're really going to get there. In fact, suppose the team is going much much further than the star programmer would ever go by himself. What do you think your star programmer attitude would be then? Odds are he would probably consider the team more because that would be in his own advantage and interest. So the thing to do is complementing the star skills from within the team, giving the star the things he can't have and making obvious that the team is going much further than the star ever would on his own. In short, give the star a goal that he knows he can't do it on his own - make him work for a better good.
This seems pretty easy and straight forward, doesn't it? Actually no, it's pretty hard - you have to find what makes each person in your team move, know what each one is really good at and make them use that skills and capabilities. But nevertheless, it's the way to go.

Fitting together different habits, skills and styles
I think all these can fit into two categories: tolerance and, again, complementarity. And every team needs both in order to function properly.
Tolerance is about accepting differences. It's about accepting others like they are and it's about agreeing to disagree - sometimes you need that. You don't have to win every argument, you don't have to be the one making every decision and your thinking is not always the best. Be smart enough to learn from others and let others do what they do better then you. If you do that, if you are tolerant enough to let everyone to what they're best at you'll end up with a fantastic team. But for that you have to be tolerant...
Complementarity is important for technical skills but particularly important on styles. In order to have a balanced team you will have to have enough creativity on the team but also enough rigor; enough stars but also enough hard-workers; enough emotion but also enough logic; and you could go like this forever... the advantage of this is obvious: a team with more skills, more versatile and with more different styles is able to face more challenges.

Taking away the arrogance
Sometimes what seems like arrogance is in fact a simple and strong message that you believe in your team. That is what José Mourinho (a Portuguese football coach) does. How do you make someone believe that he/she can really do it? Yelling or a pat on the back doesn't work, does it? Well, this guy found a way to do that: he stands for his team and his players anywhere anyhow. I don't think this is arrogance.
Other times people take for arrogance the fact that someone is really good at what he/she does and works hard for. Cristiano Ronaldo is an example again: he is good, he has been the best player in the world and he works harder then most players do to be that good. Is there a reason to prevent him to acknowledge that he really is a good player? I don't think so. And I don't think this is arrogance.
Arrogance can come from status. It can come from the fact that someone does or says something just because he/she can. No reason, no purpose, no pattern, just whims. Some people do and say stuff just because they can. This is usually the case of people who are either insecure or disconnected from reality. If you have a team member that thinks he/she is the best at what he/she does when in reality other team members are better and he/she really doesn't work hard to be all that good... well, this leads to arrogance.
I have a couple of tips on how to deal with this. The first one is to show how much a team member improves when working on something. If someone thinks he/she is a great programmer and if you are able to show the improvements made because of some trainning he/she went through then that person *must* realize that he/she isn't all that good it...
The second is to have a reality check. If you can show that another team member, not so considered, is faster and better... either you're insane or you have to accept the fact that you're not all that good at it.

The whats and the hows
I've been talking about the "what" to do. The "how" to do it is a much more complex issue. Going again back to sports, you can notice that the best coachs can do this, they can turn a group of people into a team - but not every coach. And each of these coachs that can do it, they do it differently. And this connects to leadership issues, some of them discussed on "Developing Leadership skills". One thing's for sure though: each case is a case, what works for one particular coach and team usually doesn't work for another coach and/or another team. My best advice here is to be alert. If you know what you want it's a lot easier to see how to get it. At least is easier than if you don't even know what you want, right?
Jut remember that a team is all about a greater good. If you do that...
Then you can be a better project manager!

Images taken from FIFA and Wikipedia.

Posted by


Darren said...

great article Luise ... keep 'em coming!

Anonymous said...

Great post Luise, I really enjoyed this!

Luis Seabra Coelho said...

Thank you for your comments Darren and kellycrew.
And I'm sorry for the late reply, somehow I left your comments unanswered...
Thank you.