In 2016 I attended a course about the communication strategies in politics. Although it dealt with some specific techniques used in this context, the basic mechanisms it illustrated are valid for the communication in general.
The course was held by a mental coach who has specialized to work with politicians and work/sports teams. Therefore, I took this opportunity to talk with him about the communication with regard to the team management. These conversations were very interesting because they got me thinking about two aspects of primary importance: the sharing of the goals and the management of the motivations.
People who manage teams professionally should know very well that these two issues are crucial for the teams to be successful, especially in a business context. Surprisingly, this is not always true because it may happen that they are not given the proper importance or they are completely neglected. Therefore, some mistakes are quite common even in the world of companies.
The first error I think about is to take for granted that the members of the team have the same goal(s). One of the most popular definitions of the word team is a group of people aiming to achieve a common goal. I highlighted the adjective common to stress its importance. Of course, for it to be common, every member of the team has to be aware of the goal. Therefore, a necessary condition for a team to work is that the goal is clearly shared across all its members. Although this statement seems self-evident, during the job interviews I’m afraid that very few recruiters ask what objective the applicant wants to achieve once they fill the open position they applied for. To get rich? Just to pay the bills? The self-fulfillment through the work? These examples show goals that are all legitimate but that largely vary.
Misunderstanding the goal can be even more detrimental when it comes to the sports team. Implicitly, every coach assumes that all the players aim to win but, even though it seems counter-intuitive, this is not always true! For instance, there are athletes who do a sport just because they love being part of a team or they want to keep a good physical shape.
Can a team work if it is composed of members aiming at objectives so different? I think that the answer is no. Therefore, I think that, during the process of building a team, the manager/coach should pay much attention to this aspect and should take it into account when selecting the workers/athletes. A common shared goal may be way more important than the specific hard skills of the individual when it comes to working in the context of a team.
Another crucial aspect that is often neglected is the motivation. The motivations are strictly personal and they can be very different as well, even if all the members of a team share the same goal. For example, let’s say that all the founding members of a start-up share the same objective: they want the company to succeed in order to become rich. If we asked each member why, we would probably get different answers such as:
- To prove myself that I’m valuable
- To buy a lot of material things that will make me a happy person
- To prove my parents that I am not a good-for-nothing
- To show everybody that I’m a successful person by exhibiting expensive cars, luxury watches, shiny jewelry, etc.
According to the mental coach which I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the manager should not interfere with the motivations. By definition, they are neither right nor wrong and he has no right to judge them. However, the motivations can be weak or strong and he is entitled to work individually with the team members to increase the strength of their motivations.
In conclusion, the ideal team is composed of highly motivated members who share a clear common goal. The manager of the team is supposed to work in order to get as close as possible to this condition, knowing that there is no such thing as perfection. As usual, his ability consists of putting into practice general principles by taking into account the characteristics and the peculiarities of the real situation in which he operates. No matter what strategies he chooses to implement this, a good and effective communication with the team members is crucial to achieving this objective. That’s why I think that managers should invest a significant part of their personal education budget to improve their communication skills.
PS The man shown in the picture is Bill Russell, probably the best team player of all time in basketball.