The concept of teamwork doesn’t mean that every task must be done by every member, or even a majority, of the team. In fact, teamwork is more about a sense of accountability to the team before your own functional group. When one team member stumbles, a true team leader doesn’t rush to the functional boss to whine or “turn them in” as failing. Instead, the figure out how the team can come together to get the job done. The buck stops there. Of course, each team should have team members that have the functional skills to satisfactorily and materially contribute to the team’s accomplishment. If a functional group has not provided that, it is fair for the team leader to expect assistance. However, the functional leader “owes” getting a resource to the team and the team “owns” completion of the tasks in the project or program.
The team has to define what must be accomplished to be successful. The must not “do the best they can with what they have”. They have to define the minimum resources required to meet program expectations in terms of time, cost and quality. If they do not have that, and the team leader does not raise his or her hand, then they have accepted a handicapped team that, by design, cannot succeed. All that will be left is to sort out who to blame. Failing teams regularly demonstrate uncommon talent in this area. A team without sufficient resources might be able to accomplish the required tasks with extraordinary time and effort commitments. However, tolerance of such an approach is a leadership failure that is unsustainable and will result in wearing people out and, eventually, employee turnover.
As the leader of the team you have to realize it is far from a cliché notion that the people on your team are your most valuable resource. You don’t have to look like you care about them – you, actually, have to care about them. When they stumble, you can’t start fixing blame. You need to fix the issue and move on. You need to pick up your fallen comrade and help them limp to the finish line. You need to have a credible plan and then work to protect your team members from customers, management, functional group bosses and co-workers. If their task seems undoable to you, it probably does to them, as well. They need to see your passionate commitment to them, the plan and the goal. Mission first, people always. While all leadership is a series of hugs and kicks, they need to see you as their biggest protector and cheerleader. Anybody can lead a team that is firing on all cylinders with no issues. However, that’s just not real program life. Things will go wrong. Your behavior under those circumstances will define the character of your team.
One of your challenges will be your uncommon approach. In the corporate world, mastery of politics is responsible for more promotions than raw talent and commitment to a goal for the good of the organization. You will have to teach transparency and open communication by example, because it might be the first time your team members have seen it in their professions. When your team really believes in your concern for the team members, the passion for the outcome, integrity and transparency, they will work with levels of commitment and effort that they likely would not have alone. In fact, many of them will match your level of commitment to the outcome.
So, when we say “team” and “teamwork” as though it is a plug-and-play template solution, we should get comfortable with the notion of failure. Leading a team to success is an active role in a blend of behavior, character, transparency and credible planning. You will not be followed because some program charter says you are the leader. You can’t take leadership. It has to be given by those who would follow. This is the essence of real teamwork.