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Sells like team spirit

Dave Murphy (The San Francisco Chronicle) -- What makes a great work team?

Maybe it's praise, feedback and a few lessons from "The Wizard of Oz."

Those were among the messages from workplace guru and author Ken Blanchard as he spoke recently in San Francisco, giving a presentation that was broadcast live via satellite to 75 sites across North and South America. While best known as co-author of "The One Minute Manager," Blanchard's current presentations emphasize teamwork and are based on his latest book, "High Five! The Magic of Working Together."

"We really need each other -- and we need each other badly," Blanchard said near the beginning of his five-hour program at the Herbst Theatre. Several times during the presentation, he repeated his teamwork mantra: "None of us is as smart as all of us."

It's hard for companies and workers to succeed as teams because they underestimate how difficult it is to shift from a hierarchy to more of a team structure, Blanchard said.

"The leader -- if there is a leader - has a role, but they're not necessarily any smarter than anybody else," he said. "I think women get it quicker than men. I don't think women are as hung up on hierarchy and all that stuff."

Why can it be so difficult? Even a team of three has 12 internal relationships, Blanchard pointed out.

In a team of Tom, George and Sally, for example, there are not just the six relationships of how Tom relates to George, how George relates to Sally and how Tom relates to Sally, and vice versa. There are also the six that involve how two of the people act toward each other when the third person is around, such as how Tom relates to George when Sally is around. Blanchard said that can be far different from how Tom would relate to George if they were alone.

He also gave a list of 10 reasons that teams fail:

-- Not taking time in the beginning. People never understand why the team was created, what their role is within the team and what the team's role is within the organization.
-- Believing everything has to be done as a team effort. Sometimes people should work on a project alone or in pairs, so involving the entire team would slow things down.
-- Not enough side-by-side accountability. Team members have to be accountable to one another, not just to the boss.
-- Not having enough needed resources. Especially time.
-- Leaders who won't let go. Sometimes the followers also are to blame because they won't take over the leadership role on a particular project, even though they might have the most expertise in that area.
-- Not focusing enough on excellence and creativity. Sometimes team members are so involved with relationships that they overlook important aspects of the project.
-- Inadequate planning.
-- Not enough management support.
-- The inability to deal with conflict. If there is too much emphasis on team harmony, people won't challenge ideas, even when they should.
-- Not enough training at all levels on group skills.

Blanchard said having great teams is difficult because so many managers don't want to give up their own power and status for the sake of the team. "We're born with self-serving hearts. It's a journey to have a serving heart."

Companies also don't reward teams as well as they should, he explained. Individual accomplishments get recognized, but often teamwork does not.

So what makes a successful team? In "High Five," Blanchard and co-authors Sheldon Bowles, Don Carew and Eunice Parisi-Carew write about fictional youth hockey players who learn the lessons of teamwork through the acronym PUCK:
-- Provide a clear purpose and shared values and goals.
-- Unleash and develop skills.
-- Create team power.
-- Keep the accent on the positive through repeated recognition and reward.

"One of the things you have to create in your team is the belief that feedback is the breakfast of champions," Blanchard said.

Teams and entire organizations have trouble when they don't explain key values. To avoid confusion, he said, there shouldn't be more than three or four such values, and these should be listed in order of priority so that workers understand what is really important.

At one point, Blanchard asked the audience, "How many of you are sick and tired of all the praise and compliments you've been getting?" No hands were raised.

He said teams can have a "community of inspiration" when bosses and team members emphasize what people are doing right instead of what they are doing wrong.

"I think, deep down, all of us have a little voice saying, Inspire me.' "

Blanchard showed brief segments from "The Wizard of Oz" to illustrate the advantages and challenges of teamwork. Dorothy couldn't exactly use a headhunter to choose the best team for her trip to Oz, Blanchard said. "Sometimes you're stuck with what you get."

That meant Dorothy picked up a Scarecrow who needed a brain. "One of the great things about teams," Blanchard said, "is that you suddenly get so much brighter."

She persuades the Tin Man to join them, telling him she is sure the Wizard will give him a heart. "He's willing to buy in because he can get his thing, too."

And they get help from the king of the forest, even if he is a Cowardly Lion. "If you're going to be a good team, you've not only got to share each other's strengths, but each other's vulnerability."

At one point, the Wicked Witch captures Dorothy, but the team has learned to function without its leader. They rescue her, and soon the team's biggest problem has melted away.

In the end, Dorothy finally learns that she had the power to go back to Kansas all along, but she needed to find it out for herself.

"You've always had the power and the capacity to create a High Five team," Blanchard told his audience. "You just didn't realize it."

(c) 2001 The San Francisco Chronicle

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