by Jenny Junkeer

Can teams really work in SILOs?

Being a team player is important. We testify our teamwork skills in interviews, resumes and when networking. We are coached and taught about teamwork in academia and in personal development. Often, teamwork is retrained from the systems in play that we are taught to accept. Unfortunately, hierarchal structures are often so ingrained in organisations that we cannot carry out true teamwork because the space for it does not exist. What we consider teamwork is perhaps more isolated than we realise. Often the reassurance we give ourselves prevents us from taking a step back and questioning our practices and the way we operate. Is your team functioning at its highest potential and is it getting the most out of each individual?

How does your team work?

Without question, and understandably, most organisations set their structure up as a hierarchy. While their culture may defy toxicity within the hierarchy, simply by having a CEO and/or a CFO, the teamwork in which your organisation takes part may not be reaching its full potential.

Each executive has their own team and each person within the team (or even with the team of executives) is expected to contribute by achieving their personal set of goals for the whole organisation to operate and thrive. The responsibility falls from the CEO, down to the executive team of leaders, down to the team members. If true teamwork was in play, the leader (and the leader’s leader) should also bear the responsibility. While they technically do, the responsibility is often unevenly distributed. Often an overbearing amount of weight is passed on during task delegation and the pattern continues. For example, a CEO might hand over a large proportion of their tasks to their subordinates, who will then hand over another large proportion of their tasks to their subordinates, perhaps because of not being able to handle the weight of the tasks they have been given.

Issue 1 – executives work in SILOs

With two people in charge of each team, for example, we direct ourselves towards acting how the CEO would want us to, to achieve what we believe the CEO wants us to achieve. This is problematic for several reasons. Where do leaders fit into teamwork? While the idea of having, individual responsibility is conducive to productivity on the surface – we rarely consider alternative options.

The structure of teamwork, which we rarely scrutinise, looks at tasks downwardly. The responsibility falls from the top down to an extent. We rarely look at teamwork laterally on the executive level. How cohesive can teamwork be if executives continue to work independently? The communication and collaborative work that must be undertaken at this level often gets overlooked. Individuals neglect to question nor understand the reasons they are carrying out a task – the purpose gets lost on the way down the delegation path. So how can individuals perform for the team when they do not fully understand the direction in which they should aim.

Issue 2 – conventional teamwork makes us look out for ourselves.

Feigned teamwork usually gives way to overbearing responsibility placed on the individual. It is no wonder that within the conventional teamwork structure the individual has nor the time nor the motivation to look out for their fellow team members. “Team player” or not – within many teamwork structures, the space to work as a team does not actually exist. While you may continue your individual work which is contributing to a broader team goal, how cohesive or productive is the individual’s work when the individual works independently of the team for an extended period of time.

If we compare teamwork within the workplace to teamwork that takes place in a sporting team, we can examine the common flaws and gaps in office teamwork. Within a soccer team, each team member reports to the coach who reports to a president perhaps. Imagine if they conducted their team training by having a brief instructed by the coach, perhaps a bit of team discussion and proceeded to train individually in their own section of the oval. While working on individual skills is important to teamwork, collaborative work is equally as significant. So when employees go to their desks, consider which direction you are heading as a team. Is everyone aiming toward one unified goal – and how will that be made possible when each team member’s starting point is different.

“Teamwork” can be a dangerous misused label.

Often, the label is used as a way of denying the lack of teamwork apparent within an organisation. This makes it so insidious. Team playing is not necessarily listed in any given Position Description, however, we tend to assume that a team meeting once a fortnight suffices as coherent and effective communication. One single team meeting seems to make up for the rest of the work conducted in SILOs. One discussion is not enough to be deemed as teamwork.

Employees may leave the meeting understanding what tasks they have to do, but task-driven roles are problematic. How can you play a team game if your only interest is completing your given task? How can you complete the task effectively if you do not know its purpose?

Suggestion 1

Perhaps you need to reconsider the organisational structure of your workplace. It may be more of a barrier than you realise. The system in place may be preventing teamwork from ever granting your workplace all the potential benefits.

Suggestion 2

Perhaps you require a role analysis, role redesign or re-engineering of your performance criteria to support team-based work with team-based outcomes? If it is not in your role to achieve a team-based outcome, a unified team goal is simply impossible.

At Intent, we regularly reassess the nature of our teamwork and its effectiveness. We get together and practise. We look at how individual tasks are set by teams and executed individually and regularly review this at a team level again. Get the most out of your team’s collaboration skills. By cultivating an atmosphere of leadership and teamwork, you are unlocking deeper team potential. Strong teamwork brings out genuine motivation and incentive to strive toward progress.

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