This article is about Cooperation, the fourth of the key factors in superior company performance. It is also the fifth article in a series that includes the following:
- Clear focus
- Continually-improving systems
- Commitment to cooperation (This article)
The fourth key: Cooperation
Definition of cooperation: Working together toward the same end.
Name a favorite championship sports team. What’s their secret to success? Likely your answer is team chemistry. For example: Pittsburgh Steelers (bring your lunch bucket); Philadelphia Phillies (dare you to find a superstar).
They come from small markets and have comparatively small salaries. What makes them tick?
That vital something
They have team chemistry, an intangible that no one seems to have the formula for, but that great coaches (read leaders) know how to build and maintain.
The same formula and intangibles apply to business. It’s the “I want to work there” factor. It’s about teamwork. This is the fourth and oh, so important, final secret.
If you broaden the definitions we have used in this series on secrets of success, they come down to two:
- Having a great strategy
- Executing that strategy well.
Business research is replete with findings that a well-executed sub-optimal strategy will outperform an optimal strategy that is executed less than optimally. Why? Mistakes, poor customer experiences, underperforming systems, higher costs, employee turnover, and so forth. These are all common in companies that lack the intangible team chemistry (or teamwork or morale).
So, what produces a highly-cooperative work environment?
- Living your core values
Research is consistent on this. The intangibles, such as senses of teamwork, belonging and being valued, far outweigh money and position as satisfiers for employees. People want to join a group and what defines a group is a common purpose and set of beliefs and behavior norms. The challenge for leaders is maintaining congruency of actions with those core beliefs, even when the heat is on and market factors are pressing you to abandon them. In short, to be as good as your word.
- A culture of internal customers
A strong sense of hierarchy in organizations is a cooperation killer. Rather, it breeds a feeling of us vs. them. A “we” is created when employees see their work together as a series of customer-supplier relationships and there is commitment to serve the needs of customers. Wanting my co-worker to win, I am willing to do what it takes to make it so.The way most organizations really work is this: Everyone serves as both customer and supplier, in some fashion. Example: The CEO wanting the packet of material for the board to go out on time sees the board secretary as his customer. Meeting the schedule, as defined by the secretary, must occur for the packet to get out on time. The next day, and in another scenario, the roles might be reversed. If the CEO always pulls rank and insists that the secretary be responsible to make up for the lateness of his material, he builds resentment rather than cooperation. He sees the board secretary as his supplier.
Employees who are able to overcome operating from a viewpoint of hierarchy or allegiance to their own silo (department) will enjoy mutual cooperation, high productivity and high morale.
- Employee teams designing and improving their own workWe talked about this in an earlier GrowthLines issue on the importance of continually-improving systems.
The process of defining and improving work together creates cooperation. All members of the team are committed to making the process easier for everyone. This design process creates the fabric or network through which cooperation runs.
- Honoring agreements
For years, I have been intently observing what distinguishes highly productive groups from others. Clearly, one of the factors is the manner in which people view assignments. If my to-do list is filled with tasks that move me or the organization forward, but have little impact on fellow team members, I find it much easier to put them off (and, therefore, miss deadlines). However, if another team member is waiting for completion of my work in order for him or her to be successful, I am compelled to meet the deadline because it is a personal agreement. Personalizing tasks, that is, seeing them in the context of team and cooperation, is extremely important. I don’t want to disappoint or fail to honor my agreements. In a true team, I am valued by how well I keep my word.
If you want a sample set of team rules that have proven successful in creating and maintaining a strong sense of cooperation for nearly 30 years, e-mail us. Included are instructions on how to build and maintain your own team rules. And as always, send an e-mail with comments or questions as well – I would love to hear from you!