I have to confess, my instinct prods me to go it alone. Be a lone ranger. Don’t rely on anyone else. I like to go out and meet the challenge on my own terms and conquer it without anyone else’s input. I don’t know why it is so appealing.
But the Lone Ranger mentality is a terrible strategy for the complex challenges of today. Complexity requires collaboration.
“No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.” — H.E. Luccock
The world is becoming increasingly complex. Information is proliferating exponentially.
Buckminster Fuller formulated the “Knowledge Doubling Curve”; noting that until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every century. By the end of World War II, knowledge was doubling every 25 years.
According to IBM, the build-out of the “internet of things” will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours.
Morgan Stanley did a study entitled Data Comparison, Today’s iPhone vs. 2050 Autonomous Vehicle. The study estimates the average autonomous vehicle in 2050 will use, per day, the equivalent of 3,300 years usage of one of today’s iPhones.
And today’s iPhones are powerful.
According to Graham Kendall, Professor of Computer Science and Provost/CEO/PVC, University of Nottingham, “the iPhone in your pocket has over 100,000 times the processing power of the computer that landed man on the moon 50 years ago.”
We are awash in data. And the trend is for data to continue to grow exponentially.
The role we humans play is as expert curators of information. We take all of the data available and find meaning. We use the knowledge to create action plans that empower lives and execute better business results. Most business initiatives have become multidimensional which means that a team of experts is needed.
“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” — Andrew Carnegie
I do personal financial planning for business owners. I’m trained to look at things from a broad view. But I cannot curate all of the tax information that a Certified Public Accountant can. I cannot evaluate all of the complexities involved with business legal documents. Or understand every estate implication. I need to assemble a team of experts who can collaborate. This means that they won’t just work in their own silos.
What makes a team effective? How do you cultivate a positive team dynamic?
For teams that haven’t worked together before, nothing is more important than working on building trust. This is the primary responsibility of the leader of the team. Teams cannot work together effectively in an atmosphere of distrust. Even teammates who know each other well benefit from paying attention to fostering more trust.
Some practical ways to do build trust according to Positivepsychology.com:
- Be true to your word and always follow through on your commitment
- Clear communication about commitments
- Go slowly and don’t expect too much too soon
- Make decisions carefully and, if necessary, have the courage to say ‘no’
- Be consistent
- Participate openly including active listening and giving feedback
- Show your feelings and that you care
- Admit your mistakes
- Avoid self-promotion
Avoiding self-promotion is particularly important on my teams serving business owners. Advisors too often want to show their clients that they are the smartest person in the room. It could be the financial advisor, accountant, attorney, or insurance agent. When this dynamic is in place, the owner gets a lot of conflicting advice.
Teams that trust one another know that it’s the team that comes first and that they don’t need to outshine other individuals. They shine when the team shines.
Conflicts are going to arise. Effective teams anticipate this and understand that conflicts can create better outcomes for our clients. If there is never any conflict or disagreement, it’s a sign that there isn’t a lot of open communication happening. That is not good.
How can conflicts be handled productively? It starts with a team commitment to be respectful. Take time to really listen. It sounds so simple but we all have such a need to be heard that it’s not always easy to do.
Harvard Law School’s Negotiation program primarily concerned with legal scenarios and avoiding litigation. We are talking about conflict within a group with a shared objective rather than an adversarial one.
Nevertheless, we can apply the principles to our team conflicts:
- Take time to see the other person’s point of view
- Avoid escalating tensions with provocative tones
- Avoid ‘us vs. them’ thinking. We’re on the same team
- Look beneath the surface to see if there are deeper issues
- separate the sacred from the pseudo-sacred issues
For business-oriented teams, the only sacred issue should be the shared goals and mission. We always resolve the issue through the lens of what is best for the vision and goals we have outlined.
Buy-in. All of the members of a team need to buy-in to the shared goals and mission. In my practice, this means a commitment to putting the business owner’s objectives first.
When this doesn’t happen, owners get conflicting advice. The insurance agent recommends new policies. The financial advisor recommends specific investments. The estate attorney recommends strategies to protect wealth. Everyone views things through their own silos. None of these recommendations are wrong or bad necessarily. But do they reflect the overall goal and vision?
The team needs to have a commitment to the overall vision and objectives. In order to gain commitment, there needs to be a clear organizing principle. The goals need to be unambiguous and understood.
On my own teams serving business owners, the organizing principle is that advice is delivered through the Value Acceleration Methodology. This methodology is laid out by the Exit Planning Institute. We agree to concentrate on enterprise value while aligning personal and financial goals. The business owner and their family are at the center. We agree to collaborate amongst advisors and we operate outside of our silos.
Sometimes it seems like accountability gets a bad rap. Sure we all recognize that it’s important. We want others to be accountable. We’d just prefer that it wouldn’t apply to us. When someone says they’re going to hold you ‘accountable’, what do you think? Sometimes when I hear that, I think euphemism for critical words coming soon.
I’m not talking about accountability in that way. Let’s upgrade our thinking and give accountability its due.
Accountability in the context of a team is about evaluation and correction. Did we get the things done we said we would? No? Why? This might produce uncomfortable moments but remember we trust one another and have open communication. There could be a perfectly legitimate reason for not meeting an objective. We need to be open and honest about what got in the way of it happening.
If the team has the right members on it, rarely is it an issue of neglect of responsibilities. Peer pressure encourages us all to live up to our commitments so it’s usually not an issue of someone ‘dropping the ball’.
Team accountability allows us to identify roadblocks and course correct to avoid them.
The whole point is to deliver results. We did say effective teams. I know this seems numbingly obvious. It’s important to define what we mean by delivering results. The final end result is the most important one. In my example, it may be a successful sale for a business owner that nets them enough cash to fulfill all of the owner’s personal and financial goals.
But how do we know as a team if we are effectively moving towards that end goal? After all, that type of goal may take years to achieve.
The key is that we need to break down the timeframes into smaller and smaller segments. I did an article about working backward from long term vision to determine the activities to take at any given time. It’s worth a read if you want to understand how to construct your short term activities from your long term vision. These are the results I’m talking about.
It may be what results do we intend to deliver over the next 30 days or 90 days? If we are achieving results on our short term activities, we are moving towards the bigger goal. We know this because we started with the vision and worked backward.
Situations you will run into
You will run into people who aren’t going to play nice. There are some people who simply cannot work within a team dynamic. Had I not adapted, I’d be one of them given my inclination to go it alone. Many of us can become aware of this self-defeating inclination and learn collaboration.
Certain behaviors are a tip-off for people who you may not get to collaborate effectively:
- Fear of being displaced by others on the team
- Fear of not being in control of the situation or of losing control
- Fear of losing their relationship with the influencer (in my case, the business owner)
- Inexperience or gaps in knowledge; fear of being exposed for this
- Efforts to create division or politics on the team
The word ‘fear’ was in 4 of the 5 of the above behaviors. In reality, fear is behind all of them.
The automation of many activities enabled by the continuing data revolution scares people. There’s justifiable fear that this will lead to fewer opportunities. Jobs will disappear as some tasks can now be done more efficiently by machines. When we think this way, it causes us to be defensive and think about protecting our turf.
We need to do the opposite. We need more collaboration for better outcomes. If history is any guide, the proliferation of data is going to mean new opportunities, new businesses, and more need for human ingenuity.
If you are like me and instinctively prefer to work solo, I challenge you to think about where the world is heading. Effective collaborators have a big advantage in a world of rising complexity.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” — African Proverb
Have you had to overcome a lone ranger mentality? How did you do it? What did it enable you to achieve that you would not have been able to?
Let me know. Let’s collaborate on this.
Brent Rupnow is a Certified Financial Planner and Certified Exit Planning Advisor in Southern California. Here is a link to his other articles.