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Team Spirit: Cultivate the Culture
By Jim Clemmer

Team spirit is the catalytic agent to performance. Strategic plans, marketing, technology, and capital investments are important. But the emotional commitment of the people using the tools or executing the plans will determine if they sink or soar. Too often we enter expensive facilities with high expectations, only to be treated like an intrusion by frontline staff. Or huge investments in CRM technologies, designed to enhance customer service, are used by indifferent frontline staff.

For the best companies, their team spirit or culture is a major competitive advantage. Competitors can get the same equipment, technologies -- and through acquisitions -- buy comparable products, people, brands, facilities, and other assets. But they can't buy the intangible culture of customer caring or commitment to high quality that makes or breaks their tangible investments.

Five Ways to Kill Spirit

Here are five ways that ineffective managers often kill team spirit and build a culture of mediocrity:

1. Your external advertising and branding is inconsistent with what your people experience daily on the job.
This increases "the snicker factor," deepens cynicism, and emotionally disconnects the staff delivering the services. So, customers see a big gap between their expectations, set by marketing, and their service experience. But managers rarely experience the customer's frustration.

2. You talk about empowerment but still have approval levels, slow decision making, and rules.
In other words, "you're empowered but check with us first." There's talk of an open-door policy, but closed minds or coolness often greet people who raise unpopular issues or bad news. When people participate in surveys or focus groups, they rarely hear what done with their input.

3. Despite all your pious declarations about values and the importance of people, you treat your people as inanimate assets to be managed.
Phrases like "head count," "human capital," "my people," dehumanize and objectify people. Most of us want to be treated as a person, not a "human resource." Managers who view "their people" as property are dispassionate.

4. Management issues are treated with much higher priority than those of frontline staff.

Managers spend most of their time in their offices with each other--little time asking frontline staff for their opinions. Managers' behavior suggests, "If I want your bright ideas, I'll give them to you." Once a year they might run a survey and then discount the results as "just perception."

5. Your paternalistic recognition programs provide condescending pats on the head.
Managers give out compliments or recognition as if they expect a receipt.

Seven Ways to Build Spirit
For many people, pride is more important than money. In organizations where people are disrespected and poorly treated, higher pay becomes a way of compensating for soul-destroying drudgery. In contrast, highly spirited and well-led teams are often competitive in their pay but way ahead of their counterparts in "physic pay" through higher satisfaction.

Most people want to be on a winning team and feel proud of the organization and their accomplishments. This emotional connection provides a deep sense of making a difference through meaningful work. Highly effective leaders nurture a "pride of craft" for the products or services and what these do for customers. People feel valued for what do. Milestones are celebrated. Everyone feels committed to the goals, purpose, and to customers.

Here are seven ways that strong leaders build team spirit:

1. Identify non-value-added work and take that work out of your systems and processes.
Streamline support systems that get in the way. Bureaucracy, errors, rework, and inefficiency kill commitment while slowing things down and adding cost. Ask people what makes them feel they are doing useful work. Involve them in developing action plans to build on the useful work and eliminate or reduce useless work.

2. Build a highly customer-focused organization.
Bring customers in to planning sessions, feature them at recognition or celebration events, get them to tell stories about how your products/services are being used and making a difference. Capture those stories on video, audio, and in print, and circulate them. Get those people who are serving the people who are serving customers out to meet customers.

3. Keep things simple and direct.
Keep business units small and give teams autonomy. Simplify rules, systems, and processes.

4. Encourage and promote humor to release tension and keep people looking at the lighter side of things.
But ensure that humorous comments don't disguise barbs and "sniping" among team members. And avoid humorous putdowns of others that may reinforce a sense of "they are out to get us."

5. Lead change with examples of how you have gone through tough times or major changes like these before.
Appeal to a proud heritage. Tell them how you've all come from a lineage of leaders, and it's everyone's obligation to build an even stronger organization as a legacy for future generations.

6. Keep highly visible scoreboards.
Use big thermometers, bulletin boards, Intranet sites, voice-mail messages, and newsletters to update everyone on your progress toward key goals or change and improvement targets. Make goals and progress visible.

7. Recognize and celebrate significant accomplishments and milestones reached.
Model and encourage simple "thank yous" and reinforce positive behavior when you see it.

People are searching for meaningful work. We want to go beyond success to significance. We want to make a difference. We want passion, excitement, and a sense of purpose from our work.



Excerpted from Jim's bestseller, The Leader's Digest: Timeless Principles for Team and Organization Success. View the book's unique format and content, Introduction and Chapter One, and feedback at www.theleadersdigest.com. This book is a companion book to Growing the Distance: Timeless Principles for Personal, Career, and Family Success. Jim Clemmer is an internationally acclaimed keynote speaker, workshop/retreat leader, and management team developer on leadership, change, customer focus, culture, teams, and personal growth. His web site is www.clemmer.net.







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