Teaming? Look for Capability

“We can’t work with that team!”

This is the part where management brings in team building exercises. Falling back into the arms of your team, ropes courses, solving puzzles and playing games. This will help you work better because …the team has now “bonded?” No doubt, team members may get to know each other better, they may form new friendships and they may get a few great laughs. Of all the things that “may” happen, working better is probably not on the list.

Example one, the myth of the much-maligned Van Halen and the brown M&M’s. As the story goes in the ultimate of rock star indulgences, the band Van Halen requested that all brown M&Ms be removed in their contract rider. But there was a reason, Van Halen traveled with sound, staging and lighting equipment. The rider contained specific instructions around the equipment to ensure floors would not buckle and collapse. The presence of brown M&M’s was just an easy way the band could determine if the details of the rider had been executed. If they found brown M&M’s, it was warning they needed to do a complete site-check. In work, we don’t have such clues to help us avoid potential hazards.

When things aren’t working well, there is a reluctance to have a conversation around capability. There are social norms, personal insecurities and political correctness that just make these conversations virtually non-existent in the work place, except in cases of gross incompetence. In some industries (i.e. medical and transportation), incompetency can lead to disastrous results. When the difficulty around getting work done does revolve around capability and competency, there is additional work required and resentment can build in teams.

Team members have to be more prescriptive about what tasks are required, what is expected and when things are due. Yes, this is more work. This is one of the ways to minimize the impact of the incompetence on your performance and to protect yourself. The implicit instructions give you a way to escalate or raise an issue. As a leader or manager, being detailed and clear provides an opening to have a conversation regarding when an expectation was not met. The sooner you recognize a member of your team is out of their depth and start to take the extra steps, the better. 

There is also the flip side of this scenario; it’s when you are not in your area of strength. With acrobats, it’s quickly apparent if someone is weak, unable to support the weight of others. There is a gracious way to say, I need to build strength in this area as not to be a danger to others. It’s similar with work. It is the ability to say, “I’m unsure about this, I need help. I know this assignment is important. I need guidance.” Taking a proactive action in acknowledging with your manager or project lead has a multi-fold outcome. It signals to your manager your desire to be a good asset to the team, defines area in which you can develop (but maybe not on the immediate project) and your interest in continued growth.  Say something early.  Ask for help and give credit to the people who helped you. You may not know it all, but the chances of a capability miracle are slim to none. You are not magically going to be able to execute. If you can’t run a 10-minute mile today, you won’t be able to run a six-minute mile tomorrow.

Let’s face it, in our jobs; most of us do not have the power and vision of Van Halen. Yes, I just described Van Halen as visionary.  What we do have is the ability to understand the difference between teamwork and capability. Right now, when you’re going to Jump, you need to know that someone literally has your back.

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