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Rugged individualism is so last century, part 2

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Americans love an individualist, a lone pioneer striking out on his own and blazing a trail to innovation (with the attendant rewards, of course). And while we will always celebrate the bold entrepreneur, author and management consultant Bruce Piasecki urges that those in the business world acknowledge the truth that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In other words, the secret to sustainable value creation is a good team.

“In a world that becomes more complex by the day, ‘command and control’ is out, and employee engagement is in,” says Piasecki in his new book Doing More with Teams: The New Way to Winning. “The days when a larger-than-life personality is allowed to steamroll over the rest of the company are over. This destroys morale, which destroys results. Teams, not individuals, drive performance.” The organizations with real staying power are those that rely on well-led teams.

“Teams are more important than ever because the way we work and do business has changed,” says Piasecki. “The ideas that allow an organization to achieve, grow, and prosper (as opposed to merely survive) will be created only when teams leverage their combined skills and hold themselves mutually accountable. No individual, no matter how brilliant, is likely to have the skill set to take projects from start to finish in this fast-paced and complex environment.”

Those at the helm of industry can guide employees away from an individualistic mindset and toward cooperation without riding roughshod over their individual talents. But first, says Piasecki, “They must understand that managing teams, with their web of hidden politics and complex interplay of human differences, is very different from managing individuals.”

Here are four more of Piasecki’s insights on teams:

1. Great teams relish the game. The ability to stumble, fall and get right back up is at the heart of a great team. Piasecki advises that captains encourage their teams to keep going in spite of setbacks. “Life can be a tough slog, and victories are sporadic at best. Maybe we can’t win but we can keep going. This striving brings with it its own unique rewards.”

2. Great teams hold together. Successful teams are composed of members who are committed to the team’s goals and one another. With such teams, members create a strong team identity that binds them together. In the military, for example, the coherence of the group is formed from basic training through battle, resulting in an unparalleled dedication to the whole.

3. Great teams are comfortable with the unknown. In a world that is more complex and competitive each day, successful teams must be willing to collaborate and adapt. “In complex situations where outcomes are unknown, the temptation is always to play it safe,” says Piasecki. “Effective teams learn by doing and stay focused on results; they are not bound by method or processes. And that gives them the flexibility and resiliency they need to thrive in the midst of flux.”

4. Great teams are willing to take risks. Business is constantly changing, and consequently, successful captains must be willing to push the envelope when necessary (without overstepping their morals). The best thinking goes beyond what is to what might be. “Of course, while it’s important to encourage the kind of risk that involves seizing opportunities, it’s also equally (and increasingly) critical to take steps to eliminate the risk of negative team behavior,” Piasecki explains.

“The word ‘team’ is more than just a business buzzword,” says Piasecki. “If done well, building and captaining a team will determine whether you merely survive or instead thrive in this strange new economy.”

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