Opinion Column

Is your team into golf or hockey?

By Larry Schruder, The Delfi Group

Business columnist Larry Schruder asks if your workplace operates like a bunch of golfers or more like a hockey team.

Business columnist Larry Schruder asks if your workplace operates like a bunch of golfers or more like a hockey team.

The quality of teaming in the workplace is becoming a significant competitive advantage for those organizations that do it well.

However, few organizations invest the time or resources to help their teams perform better. CEO’s can quickly rhyme off a list of developmental opportunities or programs aimed at growing the contribution potential of individual executive team members – but a similar question about what they have done recently to fine tune their team performance usually leads to a period of awkward silence. There is an implicit assumption that high performing teams are comprised of high performing superstars in specialized areas – and that the best way to grow a team is to grow individual talent on the team. However, a quick reflecting on the recent NHL season shows that many teams with excellent superstars did not make it to the final top-four teams in the playoffs. Successful work teams can make 1+1+1+1 = 6 while others with the same number of players end up with a total of less than three.

 
One of the most defining characteristics of a highly-productive team is clearly visible watching it work. Highly productive teams appear to be playing hockey rather than golf. Many leadership teams that Delfi work with start off resembling a golf foursome. Each team member agrees to a common tee-off time, exchanges the social pleasantries before and after the round, but everything in between is about playing the best individual game. There is conversation, laughter, bantering, and fun throughout the round – but what is shared with others at the end of the day is the personal outcome on the course. Now this appears totally normal because, after all, golf is much more an individual sport, rather than a team sport. The only thing ‘team’ about the game is that several people get together to play at the same time.
 
Now contrast this image with a team sport like hockey, soccer of football. In the same manner, a group of players meet at a common time for a game. There is the normal conversation, laughter, bantering and fun before during and after the game – but the post-game stories are more about the final score , whether they won or lost on the scoreboard, how different players contributed to the outcome of the game and how the game could have ended differently only if … Team sports have a different dynamic at play because it is the collective effort of all involved that determines the outcome of the game. The team result is the critical metric of success. Four
 
points by the best player on the team is all for naught if the final score is 6-4 for the other team.
 
Most workplace teams that we spend time with demonstrate many more characteristics of playing golf than hockey. There is usually too little meeting time spent on reviewing progress on shared goals, how the game is going and what overall adjustments need to be made to ensure better progress towards the desired outcome. Some teams even struggle to articulate a shared goal – a critical outcome that the team must achieve over the next six to nine months. There is usually too much time spent on highlighting individual team member achievements, how the department is doing, how each member is scoring a ‘hole-in-one’ in their personal performance game. Many times the primary reason for the meeting appears to be a time-efficient method of the leader getting an update on everyone’s golf game.
 
Highly effective workplace teams have clarity around shared goals and outcomes – and then focus their time together on how they can interact together to maximize the probability of attaining the shared desired result. The measurements of success are all about team performance and results rather than about individual or departmental achievements. There is honesty, openness, directness and helpfulness when team members need guidance or coaching to ‘up’ their contribution to team success. There is shared celebration or sober shared reflection when the scoreboard is reviewed. There is an openness to talk about individual ‘near-misses’ or actual mistakes in a constructive manner to help everyone on the team learn how to avoid or manage such situations in the future. There is a shared accountability for the outcome of the game and for ensuring that all players participate in the success.
 
There is a time for golf – and a time for hockey. But in the competitive business word of today, leaders need to take the time to assess what sport their team is playing – and then to invest the development time and dollars to ensure that the players around the table are all proficient in the skills and abilities to play a team sport. There should be no room for golf-like behaviours in a successful work team.
 
Larry Schruder is president and co-owner of The Delfi Group, Pembroke and can be reached at larry.schruder@thedelfigroup.com.