News & Media: Spotlight
The Power of Teaming Up
(An Essay in Leadership)
By Hamed Babai
Posted on October 4, 2022
By Hamed Babai
Posted on October 4, 2022
Through the past decade of my life, I have often experienced the power of teams. Over time, this has led me to fundamentally prioritize investing in the building and cultivating of effective teams. My guiding truth through this has been:
Teams are larger than the sum of their members.
A recent annual leadership retreat in Bozeman, Montana, further reinforced this belief. Our group set off on a hike as part of a team-building activity. Unfortunately, the trailhead was inaccessible by car, and we were forced to start walking a few miles down the path through an ice-covered course. By the time we reached the trail point, we were digging into the snow and struggling to get back up to the trail with every step we took. The effort required for every single step started taking its toll on us.
As each of us was getting exhausted and beaten up by this trail simultaneously, I began to recall the competitive team sports I had watched previously. In these teams of racing cars, bicycles, or kayaks, one team member usually takes the lead to navigate the path ahead. This role often involves a significant amount of mental and physical effort as one selects the best route while taking the brunt of the obstacles ahead. While the team leader focuses on paving the trail for their team, the rest of the team must place their faith fully in their leader, following every move and turn precisely.
There is a heroic beauty in this dynamic. It saves everyone a significant amount of energy while eliminating duplicate tasks, and even more importantly, it also bonds the members toward accomplishing the task ahead, thus increasing their chances.
While many factors contribute to a team’s performance, one fact stands out: a team is able to be exponentially larger than the sum of its individuals. In effect, one could even say that teams have a much larger memory collectively than any one of its members. For example, members of a team can tackle a crooked itinerary by breaking down the course into smaller sub-sections, so one member needs only to remember the details of one section. Being able to focus more intently on less enhances one’s performance greatly. Importantly, having faith in other team members’ abilities and believing they will do their best is essential in tapping into this powerful resource.
Another area where I have observed how teams are extremely powerful is the diversity of the skills different team members bring to the table. With a variety of backgrounds, each member can get assigned a task that fits their genetic strengths, skills, and upbringing. This results in less work done, but a higher quality result since the right person for the role is performing it.
However, the most inspiring and magical power of teaming up is the resonance of energy that occurs in a group of people sharing the same mindset. When people are in tune with each other and have faith in their teammates’ dedication to the team’s goals and values, each team member can feed off the energy coursing through this unit. Ultimately, this empowers and energizes everyone in the team, like a band where each musician playing an individual instrument results in a collective masterpiece.
Upon reflecting on all this, I turned to my buddies and shared my plan to act as a team, and how that could help our effort. Then, one of us started leading the way and focused on measuring his steps to pinpoint the right place and amount of pressure required to move forward.
We realized that even though the challenge we faced was complex, it was solvable with a leader guiding our path forward. The rest of us were tasked to follow the footstep of the leading member with laser-focused precision to prevent digging in and to conserve energy. After a little while, when our leader became exhausted, we switched the leader and shifted the responsibilities.
We completed our hike and learned a major lesson –as humans, we strive when we act and work together. We need to trust one another and care to protect the people who have trusted us with their life, journey, and goals. This sense of comradery is essential in any thriving team environment and can take us farther ahead in life collectively than any of us could go on our own.
Teams are complex entities, and as we face faster-paced environments, rapidly evolving cultures, increasing amounts of digital information, and an increasingly complicated set of challenges, there are factors that one can incorporate within a team to have an outsized impact on one’s success and to attain a high performance. We call these “Enabling Conditions,” a term coined by J. Richard Hackman in his pioneering 1970s studies.
A shared vision is the foundation of every great team. Vision is essentially a recipe created in one’s mind of a desirable outcome that is attainable and worth fighting for. This recipe will have to be conveyed to the team precisely to become a reality. Vision will coordinate the members of a team so they can look and move in the same direction toward a clear goal with every step and every action they take. A team with Vision uses shared principles to make decisions, prioritize tasks, and keep each team member’s success in mind at every junction they encounter. This laser focus creates an environment where the power of the team is exponentially higher than individuals’ power. It all boils down to the alignment of frequency, direction, and attention to detail among the team members.
Teams get inspired by knowing their job’s purpose, goals, and where they are going. Those goals should be challenging but not too difficult that the team becomes dispirited. They also must be consequential, resulting in extrinsic rewards, like recognition, pay, and promotions, or intrinsic rewards, such as satisfaction and a sense of meaning.
A successful team’s second most essential ingredient is the composition of its people and processes. A diverse set of skills placed inside an adequately designed org-chart, where each person is assigned to the right task, allows us to harness the power of teams optimally. But on the other hand, a team needs a clear and thoughtful set of tasks and processes that not only pave the path for individuals toward their goals but also discourage destructive behavior and promote positive dynamics.
Diversity of the members of a team allows the inclusion of both technical and non-technical skills. A team will benefit from a healthy dose of both sets of skills through using hiring processes considering diversity. Additionally, diversity in knowledge, views, and perspectives, as well as in age, gender, and race, can help teams be more creative and avoid groupthink.
Having the right matrix of support is another condition that enables the success of teams. This includes maintaining a performance measurement system, an information system that provides access to the data required for one’s work, a training process that prepares individuals for their work, and the material resources needed to do the job, including funding and tools. There is no ideal design for this matrix, but leaders must strive to improve their support for their team in each of these categories.
At its core, the act of building relationships resolves toxic “us versus them” thinking and ensures the trust needed for a team to collectively perform toward delivering on its purpose and contributing to its shared vision.
As a teams’ diversity increases, communication challenges will often arise. In the old days, teams typically consisted of a stable set of relatively homogeneous members who worked face-to-face and thought the same by nature. But in today’s world, teams often perceive themselves not as one cohesive group but as several subgroups, often with different personality types, a natural outcome of diversification we just discussed.
Thomas Erikson portrays this beautifully in his masterpiece best-selling book, Surrounded by Idiots. In the book, he notes how we all have different natures, whether as extroverts or introverts, or goal-oriented or relationship-oriented. This often leads people to view and value the world around them differently and consider people of different backgrounds, as the book title implies, “idiots”. We are all idiots in someone’s perspective because we will never completely see their perspective and fail to fully understand where they are coming from. However, understanding this animal tendency and choosing to harness it allows us to become a better version of ourselves and creates an opportunity where we can tap into a powerful resource: effective communication and appreciation of those who aren’t exactly like us.
Valuing each other’s contributions and strengths and understanding that those differences are critical in accomplishing our collective missions together will enable us to view pir team not as “us and them” but rather as “we.”
At Power Kiosk, we devoted the first half of 2022 to one of our most essential core values: building relationships. Through my recent reflections on the subtle art of building relationships, I came up with a list of components that can make or break a relationship. I would like to remain personally committed to improving on them and helping those around me do the same. Here is a list of these six elements of Building a Meaningful Relationship:
May this be the beginning of our journey toward stronger camaraderie and better teamwork for all of us.