By Ken Wheaton, Pacific Northwest Chapter, Knowledge Management Division
Successful teams in sports have been working together for years to achieve common goals by capitalizing on individual strengths. Team members are often given a role based on strengths and skills. Basketball for example maximizes physical strengths by putting taller players in the center and forward positions. The most skilled ball handlers are put in guard positions. Communications within sports teams are essential, usually direct, clear, factual, quick and without any personal hidden agendas. A team coach provides good leadership through teaching and mentoring thereby helping the team reach their goals and objectives. Team members learn together to develop good communication skills, confidence, acceptance, share goals and objectives, problem solve, make decisions and most importantly learn to trust one another. Trust encourages everyone’s contribution to the common purpose.
In government, education and the private sector, remains of the Industrial Age are still with us. Teams and communication were not important during that period and the assembly line created islands of isolated knowledge (silos). Everyone had very defined task doing the same thing over and over as a part of creating the product. Your strengths didn’t really matter as long as you did your job. In this paradigm you were very replaceable.
In “future ready” organizations when strengths are maximized within functional teams, full potential can be reached just as in a sports team. Do you really want to spend a lot of effort repairing your weaknesses or being immediately more productive using your strengths? Other team members with strengths in the areas of your weaknesses will also become immediately more productive. For example, it can be difficult to both lead and facilitate a team. That can be resolved by the team leader having another team member do the facilitation. Also, someone good at details can usually better manage meeting minutes and making meeting arrangements. All teams go through the stages of forming (being nice), storming (challenging ideas and authority), norming (healing) and performing (trust has been built). Many teams fail at the storming phase because the remains of the Industrial Age have taught us to resist conflict.
In today’s knowledge economy, teams, especially cross-functional, can help break down these barriers of communication. Location is playing less and less of a role with virtual teams becoming more common with collaborative technologies.
Teams of the future will be more like a “Knowledge Café” where everyone has an equal chance to be heard and no one can be wrong; where every idea is important in reaching a consensus. You have seen this for years in sports teams with their traditional circular huddle to problem solve. To be “future ready,” encourage and be part of cross-functional teams to open up communication, and know your team members’ strengths utilizing them fully to achieve your organization’s goals and objectives.
Ken Wheaton is the 2011 president-elect of the Pacific Northwest Chapter of SLA and the Web Services Librarian for the Alaska State Court System. Ken received his undergraduate degree in Biology/Chemistry from Western Michigan University and his MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Ken has 18 years of experience in special libraries in government, education and the private sector. His expertise is in change management where he has undertaken some major transformations in both his personal and professional life.