Three turtles on a team rock

I regularly take photos of natural wonders. Recently, I witnessed teaming in a natural setting. About a month ago, while walking through a park, I crossed a bridge spanning a large pond and saw three turtles sitting on a rock basking in the sun. What was amazing about this was that all three turtles sat completely motionless without making any sound. I took a long-range picture, but it was blurry and I decided to get a closer shot. As I got to within 10 feet of them, they suddenly all dived into the pond at the same time. Now, ordinarily this would seem normal, but what I noticed was the split second decisiveness of their entry into the water. They were synchronized in their movement, it was almost as if they were “subliminally coordinated” to take flight at exactly the same time.

Subliminal Coordination: what does it mean?

In the animal kingdom, and in nature in general, there is a tendency for people and animals to team together by communicating and collaborating, but what if no words need to be spoken, or any sounds uttered to signal an outcome or event? I observed this a number of years ago when my son was playing a video game with his cousin. The two boys were playing a simulation video game that required them to team, as military soldiers, and score points every time they eliminated an alien species. Neither of the boys uttered a word as they silently went about the business in a coordinated synchronized manner moving through the game’s walled passages, scoring points by protecting each other, navigating and challenging the enemy together. What became obvious was that by consistently moving through the game they were demonstrating consistent teaming attributes. They did this by understanding each other’s tactics, intuitively and seamlessly becoming comfortable with each other’s style. This allowed them to repetitively practice each scenario simulation, repeat and mentally learn what mistakes they each made, as well as what made them successful as a team. Eerily as this sounds, it was almost as if both boys had a sixth sense, as they were connected without the use of voice, or sound, but had actually mastered the art of sharing visual cues and mental telepathy from each other.

Real world context: how do we team?

Throughout history, we have witnessed in military, sports, entertainment and business environments, simulations practiced in scenarios that represent real-life situations, where team members have intuitively shown understanding and become familiar with the habits and styles of each other to produce an outcome. Teams are made up of individuals, whose strengths are willingly contributed, making each member both unique and complimentary to the team. Since the advent of mobile devices, application software and communication channels such as texting, diagrammatic representations, video and workflow, we have started to see more examples of subliminal teaming. Subliminal teaming is where members get to know each other and make informed decisions, resulting in synergistically speeding up the process and timing of team deliverables. Constant chatter is eliminated as members get more comfortable with decision making and collaborating online, resulting in actions flowing more seamlessly in a trusting, empowered networked environment. Teams have starting using video gaming, and an entire team can focus on a topic, becoming syncronized with each other through role-playing and visual interactions in their teaming and knowledge sharing tactics.

Rock star vs rock-stars

What we experience in business, politics, the entertainment industry, and the media, is individuals are judged and positioned on the merits of what they individually represent, how they get personified into icons are aggrandized and get perceived as “rock-stars”. Most businesses pride themselves on hiring “rock stars”, with the assumption that if they staff multiple rock-stars, all would be well and all deliverables would be met. In reality, it is often the case where individual rock-stars don’t necessarily make good team leads, or where teams (band members) don’t always cooperate, collaborate and make beautiful music together. In a typical rock-band, if all the members were rock-stars, there would be no concert, as each member would be looking for his or her “minute of fame”, there would be a lot of noise, as no-one would be able to play their unique specific instrument. The rock star focus should be the rock-stars, a team.

Teaming demands coordination, mutual consent and subliminal cooperation from every band member to be able to promote and produce songs. In other words, it takes an entire band to perform consistently, and one rock-star is only as good as the collective contribution and practice from the entire group.

The problem with team structures

So why do we focus so much attention on the individual? Why do we paint this one-ness picture in every real-life teaming situation? Why do we credential individuals to the point of ignoring the most important attributes of teaming, and spend so much time making sure individuals are all as competent as the other team members. Is team success equally important or even more important than individual success? 

One of the factors that tends to discourage teaming is the fact that in today’s corporate environment, people are rewarded as individuals within the confines and goals of supporting a functional role only, and not contributions to a project based role. Furthermore, rewards are not often given to teams, where team members get rewarded for team outcomes or deliverables.

Another example is where the traditional recruiting game is played by credentialing each person based on a set of requirements to fulfill a specific role, but what is often overlooked is the critical teaming capabilities each individual should possess and demonstrate in order to ensure teams are complimented with a diverse set of members to be successful.

How teams can be more successful

  • It takes a group of willing and able team members to respect and trust one another
  • It takes a behavioral change to empower and encourage team contribution
  • It takes an incentive to shift from mostly individual compensation to incentivize team success
  • Team goals, objectives and outcomes should be given more definition to be more easily adopted into existing structures
  • Assume all members in the team are rock-stars, and deserve to be treated as such
  • Encourage team-building, and informally promote rotational team roles for ongoing learning and cooperation
  • Promote open communication and collaboration, and explore subliminal coordination among members
  • Actively seek ways for team members to be in sync, simulate scenarios and role play when brain-storming ideas, solutions and outcomes
  • Respect individual contributions and proactively encourage member strengths as you treat each member as a “different piece in the team puzzle”
  • Open up all channels of communication, allowing members to openly interact and share experiences based on repetitive situations
  • Break-down barriers and encourage an open team communication environment
  • Make sure the team members intuitively get to understand and become familiar with the habits and styles of each other
  • Encourage synchronized simulation of solution development, design thinking and agile knowledge sharing

A Teaming example

In agile sprint meetings teams meet on a daily basis and get comfortable with collective member activities as the entire team transparently shares ideas, actions and concerns. This trusting environment promotes collaboration and cohesion between members. Agile teams often have to deal with complex or uncertain task assignments, but through a repetitive process, non threatening approach, they quickly learn to work as a team and intuitively collaborate to produce outcomes, solve problems and learn. This focus on the behavior of selfless teaming, collective member contribution, and thoughtful sharing of problems as well as successes, proves that teaming is very much alive today, and is not just another management fad.

Written by Terry Coull. Terry is a management consultant focusing on transformation and continuous improvement in technology today. This is part 5 of a series of informative team-centric leading practice white-papers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *