There is no big shot in our team!

“THERE IS NO BIG SHOT IN OUR TEAM!”, a phrase very commonly heard at any workplace. Doesn’t this statement seem bit contradictory? We refer to a TEAM and yet look for ONE big shot. Where is the team work, where is the leveraging of team members’ strengths as a whole? Is the vast ocean made of a single big drop of water? What makes us ignore or not capitalize on the strengths of all the team members? Is it too much of focus on their weaknesses or our being control freaks that leads us to focus mainly on the tasks to be delivered and not exceeding the delivery expectations?

I couldn’t help but ponder more on this after reading the following excerpt from “WINGS OF FIRE”  [chapter 13] – the autobiography of India’s ex-president, Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam:

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The young engineers, 280 to be precise, changed the dynamics of DRDL*. It was a valuable experience for all of us. We were now in a position to develop, through these young teams, a re-entry technology and structure, a millimetric wave radar, a phased array radar, rocket systems and other such equipment. When we first assigned these tasks to the young scientists, they did not fully grasp the importance of their work. Once they did, they felt uneasy under the burden of the tremendous faith placed in them. I still remember one young man telling me, “There is no big shot in our team, how will we be able to break through?” I told  him, “A big shot is a little shot who keeps on shooting, so keep trying.” It was astonishing to see how in the young scientific environment, negative attitudes changed to positive and things that were previously thought impractical began happening. Many older scientists were rejuvenated simply by being part of a young team. It has been my personal experience that the true flavour, the real fun, the continuous excitement of work lies in the process of doing it rather than in having it over and done with. To return to the four basic factors that I am convinced with are involved in successful outcomes: goal-setting, positive thinking, visualizing and believing.

*DRDL – Defence Research and Development Laboratory, Hyderabad

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Some key learnings that I could derive from this excerpt from a man who had the vision and could empower India’s youth to bring about a revolution:

* A small task isn’t really small when seen from a bigger perspective.

* Every effort in the right direction matters, even if it is miniscule.

* Never underestimate the strength of your team, capitalize on each member’s strength. One plus one does make eleven!

* Don’t just show your team that you’ve faith in them but also inspire and empower them to deliver.

* Don’t give up but believe in yourself and just do it.

* A right vision and a strong inspiration is very important to make any team shine.

* Bring about a synergy by combining the experience of the old with the skills of the young.

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INTERNAL CUSTOMERS: Value the unidentified ones!

Much to the knowledge gained through reading organizational Vision and Mission statements, Corporate Strategies and Business Initiatives, our definition of Internal customers is restricted to the employees. The strategy sheets very proudly lay down next steps and highlight accomplishments related to employee performance and team growth.

Though the internal customers [still restricted to employees] are given some credit, there are these ‘unidentified’ internal customers everywhere. These are the people who’re using the services of another business/functional unit within the same organization. These are the members of another team, another division in the same company, who have a stake in the output of the other unit.

Let’s take an example of any IT company that has various business/functional units like Software development, Quality Assurance, Customer Support, Pre-sales, Marketing, Finance, HR, Systems. Members of Quality assurance unit would be the internal customers for software development unit and vice versa; all the tech divisions have sales & marketing as their internal customers, it stands true otherwise as well.

Main focus has mostly been on achieving organizational and unit’s objectives. No doubt, HR does a great job managing personnel. However, when it comes to handling ‘internal conflicts’, the onus is quickly passed onto the Business Unit’s [Referred to as BU hereafter] head. Ironically, BU heads are always short of time when it comes to handling the so called ‘petty’ issues and targets and other objectives take the lead.

My one-on-one discussions with team members, other BU heads has mostly (though indirectly) indicated their conflicts and difference of opinions with other unit’s members. Quite a many of the projects get delayed or the quality gets impacted for the reasons like this [straight from various employees], which surely seem so trivial, but if ignored, have a huge negative impact overall:

  • The project manager of ‘abc’ team is so arrogant that we can’t approach him to get our queries answered. So we have to work with our own assumptions.
  • The quality delivered by this team is never good and we end up doing most of their job.
  • There is no response from the designer for 2 weeks now and our work is stuck.
  • Sales people always call at the wrong time, when we’re just off from work and with family.

Now, if we start understanding the reasons behind all the above statements, they may sound apt from the perspective of the ‘blamed’ department. However, what lacks is the consideration of viewpoint and objectives of other teams/departments involved. Ultimate result is low employee morale, project delays due to such conflicts, increasing communication gap and spoiled relations, none of which is productive to any organization’s health.

What is required here is:

  • Open communication from both the sides, this is the most important thing.
  • Conflict handling by the unit heads or empowering the appropriate team members to take charge of such conflicts.This works two-ways: Delegating with authority is a big motivation factor. Conflicts are handled on time.
  • Implementation of regular open house or meetings focusing on such issues. The involved parties should be encouraged to bring concerns with FACTS. Every such meeting must end up with  ‘NEXT STEP’ to be followed.
  • Regular one-one-one sessions or team meetings to review the situation after stipulated time period. Change the approach if required.The crux is that it’s crucial to identify critical INTERNAL customers as well and look towards building stronger relationships with them. The idea is, while providing services, employees of one department shouldn’t just focus on ‘completing their work’, rather they should go ahead and think of doing ‘value add’ to the overall organization. Company meets and team days do help to an extent, but more focused interactions with ‘critical internal customers’ can do wonders and assist in conflict management.Feel free to share your experiences and thoughts relevant to this post.– Manpreet Juneja