Teamwork Tips For Managers

4 business people in meetingNinety percent of the teamwork challenges faced by teams are caused by managers to which team members report.

That’s a strong accusation and, I think, a conservative estimate. Why? Simple: hierarchy (“tall” organizing structure) and teamwork (“flat” organizing structure) operate quite differently.

One operates on assumptions of authority or “power-over,” the other on assumptions of consensus (“consents us”) or “power-with.” To mix them together successfully requires attending to these three critical lessons:

1. For your team to get “built,” you probably have the most to learn.

Most managers are trained only to manage individuals, not teams. Teams have predictable development patterns and identifiable performance dynamics that you must understand intimately in order to manage successfully. Without this knowledge, attempting to manage above a team will produce random results.

2. View your team as a whole entity, not as its parts.

The principle of synergy holds that the behavior of a whole system cannot be predicted from the behavior of its parts. This is true for all systems, so one can never successfully predict team performance by knowing or managing the individuals.

Managers practicing The Leadership Gift choose to either be a fully participating member of the team or to stay out of the team’s internal business.

Yes, you can demand performance results, but don’t attempt to learn the details of the team’s conversations by interrogating various members or planting a spy within the team. Such controlling tactics may satisfy a manager’s supposed need-to-know but will also minimize the results.

3. Manage the individuals separately from managing the team.

To successfully manage a team, negotiate a sponsorship contract with the entire team that honors a set of performance demands and operating agreements between you and the team. Meet with the team regularly to update the demands and agreements.

To successfully manage the team members as direct reports, create a set of performance management practices that align with the dynamics of the team.


  1. clear expectations about individual deliverables that align with team deliverables
  2. data-based performance feedback and evaluation, and most importantly
  3. non-conflicting rewards and incentives that can be earned individually while forwarding the collective interests of the team members.

Tie individual rewards to team successes and negotiate those up front. Then, for team successes and failures, treat the team ONLY as a whole. Either distribute rewards and rebukes evenly, or provide them to the team and invite the team members to decide how to distribute them.

Get Started With This Week’s 5-Minute Stretch

If you are a manager, reflect on what you do best as a manager of teamwork and what you have the most to learn about. Validate your reflections in conversation with your reports and take action.

If you are part of a team that reports to a manager, what feedback does your manager need from you that will help him or her become a better manager?

As always, I wish you a world of productive relationships.

Leaders and coaches: Get Christopher’s best team building and leadership strategies collected over two-plus decades of solving teamwork problems for smart people. Attend the acclaimed Creating Results-Based Teams workshop, or get this FREE Special Report while it lasts: The Five Flawless Steps to Building a Strong Executive Leadership Team.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide.

Posted in Leadership on 11/26/2012 01:00 am
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