People continually hypothesise about why humans are so successful, and have achieved so much in relatively short evolutionary time, over other animal species. How are we able to organise ourselves into coherent societies. It is true that other species can organise themselves in small groups to achieve specific objectives. Wolf packs can hunt in organised groups. Bees can form in there hundreds of thousands to create a colony. But humans are uniquely capable of organising ourselves into extremely large groups with the ability to work flexibly. A worker bee, whose job it is to build honeycomb, will not suddenly decide to support a colleague whose job it is to feed the larve. Humans, in a high performing team will flex, adapt and support colleagues in a uniquely human way. High performing teams evolve and transform on a constant basis, like fluid seeking to fill every space and shape.
It is widely accepted that the creation of a high-performing team follows through 4 key stages. These are:
We have all, I am sure, had experiences where we have worked in teams with exceptional energy and purpose, where we excelled in adversity and received a sense of achievement that stayed with us for a long time. This may have even been in spite of the particular difficulties experienced on that project. We may even have felt a sense of loss when, eventually, the project completed and the team disbanded. Similarly we have all experienced situations where, to put it mildly, we could not wait to get out of there at the earliest opportunity. I certainly have experienced both these scenarios and I believe that there are distinct threads that ran through both situations.
For me the most important is empathy. We must care for each other in a way that challenges us to want to do the best for each other. No amount of money, fame or personal glory will motivate someone to go that extra mile than the feeling of collective responsibility with, and for, each other. Empathy is the emotional driver for high performance. Empathy drives performance in a way that money, recognition and fame could only wish for. It is the energy that supports all other elements. Look at successful sports teams. The common element they share is a collective responsibility for, and love of, each other. We regularly hear about successful teams being more than the sum of their parts, how they are a band of sisters and brothers.
So why is it that, when creating project teams and organisations do we not place more importance on team dynamics, culture and behaviours?
If we all know what good looks and feels like why does it seem like our leaders are reluctant to engage with building the team as a real measure of project performance? And why do organisations who commission projects not make it a section on the evaluation scorecard when measuring supplier submissions?
Crucially we have made great strides in evaluating diversity. Suppliers who are strong on employee diversity and engagement of ex-offenders, people from disadvantaged backgrounds and minority groups for example, score well when bidding for publicly funded contracts. This is right and has to be a good thing. But what about the suppliers approach to culture, behaviours and building dynamic, high-performing teams? Do we need to start having professionals, whose job it is to support the leadership team in building and maintaining the team dynamic, as integral advisors on the leadership team.
Something has to change. The old ways are failing the construction industry. Projects are not emotionally mature enough, as a collective, to manage adversity and mitigate risk. We have a culture of burying our heads in the sand rather than facing “bad news” and reducing risk of budget and time overrun. We suffer from a lack of true collective responsibility.
Things must change. We must evolve.
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