By John R. Stoker
Before the start of the college football season, the head coach of the local university’s football team announced that he had decided to take the football players’ names off of each of their jerseys, not uncommon in college football. However, in place of their names, he proposed having the team’s motto of “Tradition. Spirit. Honor” printed instead.
Because the team members were unhappy with this change, they called a team meeting to express their displeasure at the coach’s decision. The players told the coach they believed that displaying their last names on their jerseys was not only honoring their families’ names, but also a visible measure of their personal accountability for their performance on the field. To the head coach’s credit, he reversed his previous stance to accommodate the team’s desires.
This situation drew such a firestorm of protest in the news and from fans on social media that it reaffirmed to me the importance of team unity.
In order to create a high performing team, unity is essential. Leaders need to recognize that the way they manage a team’s dynamics plays a large role in how well people work together toward achieving mutual goals.
As you review the suggestions below, keep in mind how your conversations with your team and individual members impacts team unity.
No one is perfect. Performance is a function of understanding and ability. If your message is unclear, then you will likely be misinterpreted—individuals tend to act based on their perception of what is required. Use others’ performances as an opportunity to explore potential misunderstandings.
Focus on Solutions
Oft times leaders berate others for poor past performances. There is nothing wrong with exploring the past from the perspective of learning. As soon as you understand how current results were achieved, focus on the future—what the individual can do going forward to improve their results.
It is critical that no one speak negatively about anyone on the team, particularly behind their backs. Explain that each individual is responsible for protecting one another’s good name. If an individual has an issue with a team member, you should encourage them to speak with each other about those issues rather than talking about them to other coworkers or to you.
Team members should be encouraged to consciously observe and identify what is working and what is not. You want people to do more of the right things and learn to identify areas that can be improved. If you are able to get your team to take initiative for their learning and apply what they learn to their current challenges, you will not only save time, you will increase their ownership and accountability for success.
Do Fun “Stuff”
As hard as people work these days, it is important to engage in activities that will allow people to get to know one another on a personal basis in an informal setting. Fostering positive personal relationships pays dividends on the job, not to mention the importance of allowing others to relax and enjoy themselves together.
Recognize individual and team effort in accomplishing superior results. We repeat behavior that is reinforced. Taking the time to recognize performance and its impact says, “I noticed you and what you did.”
Encouraging team members to share and explore their concerns and frustrations creates a degree of candor and openness that will foster learning and increase improvement. Besides, often team members know more about what is not working than you do. You want to access the knowledge and difference in perspective that team members can provide. If you have to make a decision that may not receive wide support, explain the “why” or rationale for the decision. Don’t be afraid to change your mind should you receive additional data that you didn’t have before--doing so signals to the team that you are open and flexible and that you value their input, knowledge, and expertise. Fostering and encouraging openness can create more successful outcomes.
The head coach’s willingness to listen and to accept his team’s request regarding their names on their jerseys did more to increase team unity and develop a strong team identity than printing the team’s motto on their jerseys. The coach’s decision to listen to his team and to adapt to their request was an expression of his principled leadership.