When There Is an I in “Team”
By Louise Dunn
We have all heard it, probably even said it a time or two—“There is no ‘I’ in ‘Team.’” When you heard it or said it, what was the situation? Was someone letting his/her ego get out of hand? Maybe hogging the ball or taking all the credit for work done by the group? Or, perhaps it was a message on a poster hanging on the wall in the lunchroom? No matter when you heard it/said it/saw it, the message is always the same—it is a bad thing to have an “I” in the team.
Or is it?
Of course, it is never good when a team gets waylaid by someone’s ego or bias. But is it fair to say that the individual does not exist on a team? Of course not. A team is made up of individuals. A team harnesses the power of the skills, knowledge and abilities of all of those individual “I’s” into a cohesive, high-performing group that can work faster, stronger and smarter than any single individual. There are a lot of “I’s,” and when looking at the “I” in “Team,” one must consider both the positive and the negative aspects.
Building a Great Team
It is essential to understand how to create a high-performing team—no matter if the team is a sports team, a business project team, a veterinary healthcare team or a boarding/daycare team. The same basic guidelines should be followed:
- Focus on a common goal
- Define the roles
- Utilize complementary skills
- Establish accountability
- Promote collaboration
- Communicate frequently
For a boarding facility, the goal is always about the safety and wellbeing of the pet (as well as the safety of the people handling those pets). Each person has a job to do—and each person brings a specific level of skills and abilities to the table. This is where you should view the “I” through a positive lens.
It is important to match each “I” (AKA person) to a job, or, as Jim Collins said in the book Good to Great, “Get the right person in the right seat on the bus.” Each “I” has a set of skills, knowledge and abilities. A high-performing team is never composed of all one type; it is composed of complementary skills working together towards achieving outstanding results. A super bowl team is not composed of all quarterbacks, nor is an excellent veterinary team only DVMs. Similarly, any boarding facility must balance different complementary skills among its team members.
Here is where management plays a key role. To create this high-performing team of talented (yet individual) people, managers must take charge of:
- Building trust between team members
- Inspiring a shared vision and motivating others
- Recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of others
- Fostering collaboration and mitigating conflict
- Modeling the way (leading by example)
Management cannot take a back seat where the team is concerned. A group of individual “I’s” needs to be pulled together to achieve a goal—and management has that critical task. As another cliché goes, “When you point one finger, three fingers are pointing back to you.”
Management must not only focus on (point the finger at) an individual when there is a breakdown in team performance, but also examine their own actions in creating and maintaining the team. Consider if roles and responsibilities were unclear—perhaps not communicated well—or perhaps favoritism snuck in when assigning team roles. Maybe management turned a blind eye to episodes of poor performance or minor grievances. A manager must hold himself/herself accountable too. Unfortunately, even with a fantastic manager at the best boarding facility in the tri-state area, teams can become dysfunctional when the ego or bias of one “I” takes front and center.
When There is the Wrong “I” in Team
A problematic employee (that one “I” that is sabotaging the team) affects everyone. He/she is like a virus, spreading the disease of discontent to everyone. Management must take action—ignoring it and assuming that it will go away on its own won’t work. Nor will pointing fingers, jumping to conclusions or making accusations result in a successful resolution. Instead, having that difficult conversation to understand what is causing the problematic behavior is the correct path.
Start by finding out if the person is aware of their behavior and how it impacts the team. Uncover the root cause of the employee’s actions and discuss solutions to the problem. This is a time to work together to evaluate if training, an employee assistance program or other tools/resources will help. Implement an agreed-upon plan, measurable goals and time frames, and consequences for not meeting those goals. Regular, frequent conversations will be crucial to the success of the performance improvement plan.
When to Cut the Cord
Even with all these tips in place—building a team, management’s role, corrective action steps—there will come the point when it is time to “cut the cord.” When does the inappropriate behavior or poor job performance cross the line? When should the coaching, training and warnings end?
Keeping an employee because replacing them is not convenient is the first hurdle to overcome. There is a “cost” when keeping the cord attached. Some experts estimate the cost of keeping the wrong employee can be up to 15 times his or her annual salary. Costs include: losing great employees (because they are tired of putting up with the poor performer), losing clients (either due to the actions of that poor employee or due to the overall environment of the business) and losing productivity. As you can see, the costs can mount when the cord isn’t cut.
So, where does the manager go from here?
Here are some basic steps to take in the termination process:
- Prepare a termination file with a checklist and standard forms.
- Train the management team on how to prepare for and conduct the termination process.
- Schedule a private location and time to meet with the employee.
- Tell the employee why he/she is being terminated.
- Have documents ready regarding health insurance (COBRA), retirement plans, etc.
- Provide information regarding their account and any balance owed.
- Have the final paycheck cut and ready to give (including vacation if applicable).
- Collect keys or disable security codes and any equipment belonging to the business.
Having a file with prepared documentation allows for a smoother process. It is never comfortable, but if the manager has gone through the prescribed steps and has all the documents, there should be no regrets or push-back when the employee is terminated.
No one likes firing a person, but if the person does not buy into the business’s leadership, core values and culture, they do not belong “on the bus.” If the person has become toxic, it is time to remove them from your team.
There will always be a group of “I’s” on a team; however, the goal is to build upon individual strengths to form a cohesive group that provides excellent pet care, exceptional client service and an amazing work environment.