Team Esoko First means that we are not Kenyans and Ghanaians first. We are not Product or Sales or HR first. Team Esoko First means that our first priority is to achieve our purpose of improving the lives of the poor through innovation. Team Esoko First means never saying “that’s not my job”.
So how do we do that as one team scattered across multiple geographies, time zones, cultures and generations? Let’s look at the characteristics of a high performing team.
First, high-performing teams are unselfish. That doesn’t mean that individual members aren’t interested in promotions and being recognized for their individual performance. It means that they put the team above all else. They know that the team’s success will enable them to develop as professionals.
I once had a student in my class years ago at Columbia University who approached me after learning that he had to do a group project whose performance would be graded collectively. He requested that he be able to do an individual project because he had a perfect 4.0 and he was worried that the team may not be able to achieve that, thereby lowering his GPA. His selfishness angered me and showed me that while he was book-smart, he was not world-wise. I explained to him that in the real world, people work collaboratively and that it was his role to raise up any members of the team who were struggling. He completed the group project and preserved his perfect GPA but not without eating a little humble pie first.
Members of high-performing teams listen. They listen to each other – communicating regularly and consistently – and they listen to customers. Listening is perhaps the most underrated skill in leadership. Everyone thinks they do it well but few people do.
Members of high performing teams show that they care about others’ well-being and and that they can be relied upon during times of professional and personal hardships. A 2013 Forbes article on leadership said: “Employees want to be led by those who genuinely care about who they are and what they represent to the team and organization at-large. Don’t just view your employees as tools and resources for your own success – but as people and valuable assets who bring unique capabilities and aptitudes not necessarily limited to their job functions.”
Sometimes it’s easier to recognize bad team behavior than good. See if you recognize some of these patterns in teams you have been on before (adapted fromLeading Teams, Harvard Business School Press, 2006):
- Absence of team identity. Members may not feel mutually accountable to one another for the team’s objectives. There may be a lack of commitment and effort, conflict between team goals and members’ personal goals, or poor collaboration.
- Difficulty making decisions. Team members may be rigidly adhering to their positions during decision making or making repeated arguments rather than introducing new information.
- Poor communication. Team members may interrupt or talk over one another. There may be consistent silence from some members during meetings, allusions to problems but failure to formally address them, or false consensus (everyone nods in agreement without truly agreeing).
- Inability to resolve conflicts. Conflicts can not be resolved when there are heightened tensions and team members make personal attacks or aggressive gestures.
- Lack of participation. Team members fail to complete assignments. There may be poor attendance at team meetings or low energy during meetings.
- Lack of creativity. The team is unable to generate fresh ideas and perspectives and doesn’t turn unexpected events into opportunities.
- Groupthink. The team is unwilling or unable to consider alternative ideas or approaches. There is a lack of critical thinking and debate over ideas. This often happens when the team overemphasizes team agreement and unity.
- Ineffective leadership. Leaders can fail teams by not defining a compelling vision for the team, not delegating, or not representing multiple constituencies.
Team Esoko First is about being mutually accountable for one another. It is about listening and communicating. It’s about genuinely considering alternative ideas or approaches, and resolving conflicts with good intentions. If you are Team Esoko First, you ask your colleagues ‘how can I help?’ regardless of whether that help falls within your job description. Team Esoko First is about putting the success of the whole above the individual glory.
In short, Team Esoko First is about helping others, but if you can’t help, at the very least it’s about doing them no harm.