Broken teams

Building branded businesses takes true collaboration over time. Teamwork is hard to build and easy to lose. Years ago the management guru Tom Peters warned leaders to watch for three warning signs of a broken team:

  1. Constant firefighting in your business. Any leader will tell you the thrill of fixing daily problems quickly palls.
  2. Micromanagement becoming necessary. Deadlines slip, so the leader steps in and imposes tasks and timelines. And guess what? They’re not met either.
  3. Every discussion becomes aggressive or sensitive quickly. Staff become defensive; their stories (reasons for non-completion) become wilder and more impassioned. Fingers point. Then people begin to fall sick.

Nothing much has changed since Peters’ time and it’s unreasonable to expect that it would. Basic human behaviours take a long time to evolve, and each new generation seems to arrive in the workplace without any useful learnings from its predecessor.

But broken teams can be fixed; we do it all the time. It requires a top level decision to acknowledge the problem, and commitment to put it right. Turning the staff to face the customer helps.Generally, in Africa we find none of the employee cynicism our colleagues in Europe have to work through. Very few organisations here have given employees, or even middle management a real voice as yet. So when it happens, companies do experience a goodwill dividend.

Then it’s a question of setting a direction; communicating it clearly and showing your people what part they can play in delivering your brand. That may sound like oversimplification, but it isn’t. It a basic skill set that many leaders have not mastered. When they do, it makes them stand out. I’ve never been one to shower Safaricom, the largest enterprise in the region, with praise. It already attracts enough toadyism. But over the last 5 years there is a perceptible improvement in customer experience at almost every touchpoint in the business. Safaricom staff seem to ‘get it’. They deliver without having to think too hard about it. I’m pleased to say they’re not the only success story, but we need more. And we don’t need resources of big business to achieve it.

The situation that distresses me most is the business where the Founder has aged, but not made a plan for the future. Some call it Founder’s Syndrome and diagnose that the protagonist is in denial. Even perhaps, about his own mortality. In such situations the boss tightens and deepens his control on the day-to-day life of the business. His workload skyrockets and the business falters because everyone is now waiting for his input. No good ever comes of this.


Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside


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