Now here is a dream achievement for most managers; creating positive team chemistry.  If only a manager could find the magic formula that creates a team environment where almost any accomplishment is possible.

The trouble is, there is no magic formula. Moreover, positive team chemistry has aspects that are simply beyond a manager’s control.  The aggregation of the precise talent, personalities, and the right time and place is an occurrence that defies conscious control. In addition, positive team chemistry requires all team members to set aside their selfish interests for the common good.  But that is not to say that a manager is powerless when it comes to laying a foundation wherein great team chemistry can emerge.

Assuming that your goal is a team environment where every individual cares equally about and facilitates the success of everybody else, I believe there are certain do’s and don’ts well within the capability of good managers that will facilitate that goal’s occurrence.  Among the most important are the following.

 Do not play favorites.  Playing favorites is a real team chemistry killer. When it is clear that only certain team members are seen as more important or highly valued, the result is usually resentment, competition, and an every person for themselves attitude.  This is not conducive to teamwork period.

Get to know each team member as individuals.  Take the measure of their strengths and weaknesses.  Learn what motivates them and try to accommodate those motivators whenever possible.  Treat people as individuals valued for what they have to contribute and that usually gains their respect.  Let them know that you expect them to function as a team but that you consider teamwork their responsibility not yours.

Find the right team members and assign them to their appropriate roles.  Treating people as individuals does not mean that you view them collectively as having equal talent or capabilities.  Teamwork thrives when you have assembled the right talent and all participants understand and accept their roles.  While some roles are larger and more significant than others, every role matters when it comes to outcomes.  Finding the right roles for individuals and helping them accept and see the value of those roles  is one thing that distinguishes the best managers from their peers.  It is also a vital necessity for creating true positive team chemistry.

Set team goals that are a combination of stretch and realism.  Good teams need goals to strive toward, lest they stagnate, flounder and manage only mediocrity.  It is a manager’s job to help a team define those goals.  But those goals demand realism and the necessary talent to achieve them, or frustration will result.  If a team’s goal will require time and the addition of new team members, the timeframe and benchmarks along the way should be designed to stretch and motivate team growth, without setting the team up for the sort of failures unrealistic goals inevitably do.  Achieving the right balance between stretch and realism is another distinguishing characteristic of the best managers.

Foster a team culture where failure and mistakes are seen as learning laboratories not as ultimate defeats.  Team goal achievement is generally an iterative process demanding effort, creativity and frequent setbacks along the way. Teams who do not learn from their failures invariably repeat the same mistakes and often evolve a negative team culture where accepting failure becomes the norm.  Good managers insist on learning and model it in everything they do.

Remove bad apples.  Nothing destroys team chemistry and effective teamwork more than a bad apple.  Bad apples are those individuals who for whatever reason refuse to buy into a team’s goals.  Bad apples are self-absorbed, motivated only by what they see as their best interest and above all, they are disruptive.  Some bad apples are redeemable with the right coaching and mentoring but in my experience most are not.  Remove bad apples or team chemistry will suffer or be destroyed.

Finally, always have your team’s back.  When a team succeeds, the boss usually receives her or his fair share of the credit.  The important moments arise when a team fails.  The best managers never, as the saying goes these days, “throw their teams under the bus”.  Good managers support their teams in times of failure, acknowledge their own contributions to that failure and take as much of the heat and criticism as they can.  Good managers simply avoid pointing a finger at anybody other than themselves.  If team’s successes are a collective effort, so are their failures.

Categories: Exercising Responsibility, Leadership, Managing & Leading, Managing People, Motivating Top Performance

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2 replies

  1. This was a great piece, Terry. It reminded me why I was only a mediocre manager at best. I realize that your target audience is the business world, but, again, I think it helps understand management in the academic world. I only had 2.5 years of academic management during my career. The work was less than the work of a purely academic individual. But managing tenured academics is akin to herding cats. Academics in a department have minds and goals of their own. Group goals are just a bother to them. They are resistant to ANY change, and it’s hard to get rid of any of them.

    I ran into only a handful of good academic managers in my 36-year career. Their chief characteristics were: open office door policy, always greet you with a smile when you walk in, and always have your back when dealing with academics from other departments or with higher-level administrators. But why anyone would want to be a manager in any context is beyond me. One has to be: trying to avoid being managed, looking to get higher compensation, looking get to the top, or just insane!

    • Al….perhaps I was insane but compensation and getting to the top were not my motivation. I really loved managing and believe me all managers have managers of they own. For me it was about creating a team, defining a worthy goal and seeing if I could motivate collective accomplishment. It was often frustrating, I failed frequently but I sure did love giving it a try. Now I do not miss it. So I just write about it

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