Monday Mornings with Madison

Just How Important is Teamwork in Business? Part 3

Word Count: 1,512
Estimated Read Time: 6 min.

Getting a diverse group of people to work collectively, collaboratively and cooperatively together toward one common goal is the ultimate goal of any organization.  To see teamwork in action, one need look no further than the team sport of rowing.  Indeed, rowing is considered by many to be the ultimate teamwork sport.  All team members have to work in unison and be both physically & technically exact.  Every competing athlete, every coach and every behind the scenes team member works together to achieve success.  By working together as a team, a certain amount of self-monitoring kicks in that isn’t present when people work individually.  The best teams experience self-correcting behavior, reducing the need for direction and management.

In 2013, Alex Gregory of the British Rowing Team said that “rowing is defined by and relies upon teamwork in one form or another.”  He explained that “teamwork is never more apparent than in an eight man boat. It takes months of practice and development to produce an eight man crew, relying on eight athletes, a pilot and a coach. The whole team works together in mind and body through weeks of intense training ensuring that everyone moves in exact unison.  Any tiny difference in timing, positioning or mind-set can have a negative effect on the speed of the boat.”

Gregory also explained that communication is a key part of rowing.  “Physical communication is transferred to each crew member by movements in the boat as well as verbal communication in feedback.  Before every training session, the crew will discuss what they plan to achieve, how they are going to achieve it, and how they are feeling. Following the session the team discusses whether the session achieved their goal, what worked and more importantly what didn’t work.”  And, while there can be disagreements and not everyone has to feel the same way about the session, one thing links them together above everything else… the desire to win!

Boosting Teamwork in Business

In business, teamwork is particularly valuable by bringing together a group of people with a desire to succeed.  In working collaboratively, a team is able to generate fresh ideas and spur innovation, which is invaluable in today’s uber-competitive world.  It allows employees of differing ages, backgrounds, skills, and experience to share their strengths and minimize their weaknesses as a group thus amplifying their effectiveness.  And, teamwork generates a variety of perspectives and viewpoints, as well as a wealth of solutions to any given problem.  It also supercharges efficiency by letting a group split difficult tasks into manageable portions within centers of expertise.  It lets those who are best at a task do that task, which means they will complete it faster and with fewer mistakes.

Moreover, teamwork benefits employees as much as it benefits the employer.  Employees find that teamwork boosts morale, productivity and effectiveness.  Team members feel they are able to take ownership of the team’s wins and able to safely discuss when there are mistakes.  This connects each employee to the company, the overall team and the individual coworkers more deeply.  And it forges stronger bonds, increased trust, clearer communication, more motivation and greater cooperation among colleagues.  Indeed, there’s a lot to love about teamwork.

When a company is able to really get people to gel as a team, the organization experiences dramatic results.  But while the importance of teamwork cannot be overstated as it is fundamental to the success of any organization, it is not automatic.  Getting a group of people to work together toward a common goal is not as easy as it might seem.  Teamwork doesn’t just happen.  It must be developed over time.  Like a rowing crew, to get a team to work in unison requires certain conditions to be in place as well as training and time.

The Necessary Conditions for Teamwork

What does it take for individuals to work as a team?  According to Martine Haas and Mark Mortensen in an article titled The Secrets of Great Teamwork published in Harvard Business Review, April 2016 issue, there are four conditions needed to create a climate that is conducive to teamwork.

1. A Clear and Compelling Direction

The first condition that is needed is a clear direction.  A team must all be rowing in the same direction, aiming for the same destination.  This is the compass that steers the team and gives it energy.  That direction must be communicated to the team as its goal or goals.  Those goals should follow the three Cs:  clear, challenging and consequential.

  • Clarity is important because a team cannot be inspired and invigorated to bring their A-game if they don’t know what goals they’re working toward.
  • Challenge is needed because people need to feel motivated to work toward a goal.  Easy is not motivating.  Anyone can do what is easy.  For people to tap into their determination and drive, they must feel that they have to rise above and go beyond ordinary.
  • Most importantly, the goals must be consequential.  People need to feel that they are working on something that matters and toward something significant.   This can either be some kind of extrinsic reward like money, recognition or a promotion.  Or, better yet, it can be something intrinsic such as a worthy cause, a sense of pride or an overriding values-driven purpose.

Leaders must set clear, challenging, consequential goals that will help everyone on the team to work together and help the organization move in the right direction in the most efficient and effective way possible.  A goal that is clear, challenging and consequential can help a team do amazing things.

Case in point.  In 2009, Danish Oil and Natural Gas – aka Dong Energy – which was Denmark’s biggest energy company –  slid into financial crisis as the price of natural gas plunged by 90%.  The S&P downgraded its credit rating to negative.  What’s worse, Dong Energy emitted fully one-third of Denmark’s carbon dioxide emissions.  The company was a major polluter and in financial trouble.

Dong Energy’s Board of Directors did something questionable to deal with the crisis.  In 2012, they hired Henrik Poulsen, a former executive of LEGO (a toy manufacturing company), as the new CEO.  Rather than focusing on the symptoms and going into crisis-management mode — laying off workers until prices recovered – Poulsen focused on the problem – the product – and decided to totally change the company’s direction.  At that time, 85% of Dong Energy’s power and heat production was black and 15% was green.  Their clear, challenging, consequential goal was to build a new core business and find new areas of sustainable growth in order to flip those numbers.  They explained that their main purpose was not just to serve shareholders, but to serve society through innovation, commitment to a healthy environment and economic opportunity for all.

To achieve this, the company started with a total rebranding.  Danish Oil and Natural Gas was renamed Ørsted, after Hans Christian Ørsted, the legendary Danish scientist who discovered the principles of electromagnetism.  Then they shifted their focus to combating climate change.  Ørsted became one of the first companies to make the consequential decision to go totally from black to green energy.  For an oil company, that was not just highly challenging but also radically important in the big picture.  By identifying a higher-purpose mission that galvanized the organization, Ørsted was able to begin working as a team, with the whole team rowing in the same direction.  They said that, within a generation (30 years), Dong would flip the ratio so that 85% of their energy production would be green and 15% black.

So you may wonder, did Ørsted meet its goal and did this new clear, challenging, compelling direction help Ørsted’s balance sheet?  They met their goal much faster than projected.  By 2018, Ørsted’s green energy output was 75% of total output and the company had reduced its CO2 emissions intensity per kilowatt hour by 72%.  By 2025 — two years after the last of Ørsted’s coal plants are scheduled to shut down, green energy will account for 99% of the company’s output while CO2 emissions intensity will fall by 98% of its 2009’s level.

Ørsted – which had been largely a domestic Danish company – became a leader in offshore wind power, with control of 30% of the global market.  The company currently has 40 offshore wind farms in the US, in Taiwan and across Europe, in Denmark, Germany, the UK and The Netherlands.  By 2025, the company is expected to generate enough green energy to supply 30 million people.  The company reported revenue of $8.5 Billion U.S. in 2020 and propelled the company’s stock market value to about $69 Billion U.S. according to Bloomberg, making it one of Europe’s most valuable energy companies.  It could be argued that it certainly contributed a great deal to the company’s giant leap from crisis to super-success in just a decade.

Next week, we will wrap up our look at the value of teamwork by discussing the three other conditions needed for good teamwork:  strong structure, a supportive context, and a shared mindset.  These are the factors that ensure a team is able to work well together to achieve a shared goal.  Stay tuned.

Quote of the Week

“Individual commitment to a group effort- that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”
Vince Lombardi


© 2021, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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