#255 from R&D
Innovator Volume 6, Number 1
Strategies for High-Level Managers
DuBrin is professor of management at the Rochester Institute of
Technology, Rochester, New York, and is also a consultant to
organizations and individuals. He is the author of many
professional and trade books and articles in journals and
magazines. A recent book of his is The
Breakthrough Team Player: How to Be the MVP on Your Workplace Team
(AMACOM, New York,1995).
A research and
development manager intent on building teamwork within the group
faces a curious challenge. Many
of the standard tactics for building teamwork might not appeal to
a group as sophisticated as R&D professionals.
Giving each member of the team a sports cap and a tee-shirt
emblazoned with “We’re Number One” might work in some
settings but could easily be perceived as patronizing by a group
of engineers and scientists.
The purpose of this article is to describe plausible
actions the research and development manager or team leader might
take to build team spirit and teamwork. So before you rush out and purchase key rings with a team
logo, read on.
a Vision and a Mission
set a vision for the firm, yet teams can have their own visions
that support the vision at the top.
The leader of an R&D team might encourage the team to
establish a vision of someday becoming well known in the industry.
Given that most corporate visions are lofty, team visions
will usually fit a corporate vision relating to world-class
status. A mission is
typically more specific, and more related to implementation, than
a vision. It is also tied more directly the team’s presenting
reality, such as “providing investigations of new technologies
that are noted for their relevance for eventual commercial
application.” Whether you spur the group to establish a vision, mission or
both, it will be an important step forward in developing teamwork.
Commitment and Confidence
A key teamwork
development tactic is for the leader to build the commitment and
confidence of each team member as well as the team as a whole.
For the group to develop a strong team spirit, individuals
must feel a sense of mutual accountability.
An effective vehicle for building commitment and confidence
is to make ample use of positive reinforcement.
Team members should be given frequent reminders of what
they’re doing right, and encouraged for actions that contribute
to team goals. Positive
reinforcement for an R&D professional might take the form of
sending an e-mail message to the company president (and including
the professional on the distribution list) praising the person’s
It cannot be
stated with high certainty that positive reinforcement leads
directly to commitment and confidence and builds commitment.
More certain is that fact that giving staff members no
positive reinforcement decreases commitment and lowers team
rewards for group accomplishment reinforces teamwork because
people receive rewards for what they have achieved
recognition accompanying the reward should emphasize the team’s
value to the organization. Recognition
promotes team spirit by enabling the group to take pride in its
contributions and progress. Here
are two examples of team recognition:
A display wall
for team activities such as certificates of accomplishment, recent
publications and patents, and recognition in professional
mark milestone such as a the conversion of an R&D concept into
a product, the issuing of an important patent, or the discovery of
a money-saving process.
Team Spirit by Welcoming All Input
elevates with a broad-based contribution to the group effort.
It’s especially important for the high-performing leader
to avoid the situation of one or two people being the only
contributors during a meeting.
Unfortunately not every team member has the talent to
contribute as much as the stronger members. Welcome all input to
encourage even modest contributions. Explain how each idea, each completed task, contributes to
the larger fabric of a team product.
For example, a team member might conduct a literature
search that eventually leads to an important technical innovation.
Without the painstaking literature search, the innovation
might not have been possible.
Opportunities for Others
Team spirit, and
team performance, will dampen if the leader hogs the best
opportunities, assignments, and credits.
One of a leader’s biggest challenges is to provide
opportunities for the group and individuals to perform well.
The challenge is more acute when the leader has a strong
track record, and the other team members are at an earlier career
stage. Here is an example from outside the world of research and
Top management at
an entertainment conglomerate decided to investigate the
possibilities of opening a theme park. The head of the new venture
team was asked to personally visit six leading theme parks in the
United States and Canada. She welcomed the assignment but then
suggested to top management, “Jeff, one of the quickest minds on
the team, is also a theme park buff.
He even wears a Mickey Mouse watch.
I recommend we send him on this field assignment. His
insights would be very helpful.”
The executive group welcomed the suggestions. The group
knew, without the team leader saying so, that she had passed a
plum assignment along to a team member.
in Tasks Performed by the Team
One of my
earliest work experiences taught me a lesson about team leadership
that is still valid today. The
first day I showed up to work for my entry-level job at a diner,
the manager was busily mopping the floor.
I assumed that because I was a new worker, the mop detail
would be handed to me. Instead, the new manager told me, “Look sonny, I mop the
floors just like anybody else.
I’d never ask anybody working for me to do a job I
managers are able to demonstrate the same spirit in team building.
Many managers may be able to perform tasks similar to those of
staff members. However,
in highly technical and professional areas, the technical
knowledge and competence of the manager is an integral part of the
leadership skills required for effective management. Therefore,
the idealized version of the leader who spends all of his or her
time formulating visions, crafting strategic plans, and inspiring
others through charisma, does not fit team leadership. The effective leader engages in those activities that are
strictly their responsibility, while arriving at a final decision
after receiving group input.
While groups demonstrate high productivity and team spirit,
the leader is generally involved in facilitating the member’s
activities and outputs.
Humor with Appropriate Frequency
laughter are excellent vehicles for building team spirit when used
with appropriate frequency. The
group needs to laugh enough to raise morale, increase the fun
associated with the task, and to stimulate creativity.
The effective leader therefore has a good sense of humor
but avoids the immaturity of a nonstop laboratory clown.
For building team spirit, the most effective humor is
linked to the situation in the form of a humorous comment.
Bring rehearsed jokes into the meeting is much less
effective. Here is an
example of humor that worked in a specific situation. Recognize
that outside of the situational context, a statement may not
appear so humorous.
An R&D team
was attempting to fill a position for a microbiologist. A team member said she had an excellent candidate, but that
his current salary was $3,500 higher than the maximum starting
salary for this position. With
a deadpan expression, the team leader said, “Call him back and
ask him if he would like to take a pay cut to ease his tax
the Use of In-group Jargon
wisdom is that jargon should be minimized in business.
Yet liberal use of jargon among team members enhances team
spirit because it sets the group apart from others in the
organization. When dealing with outsiders, team members can then
follow the effective communication principles of minimizing
performing specialized work are the most likely to use jargon.
For example, a member of a quality- improvement team
returned from a vacation. Asked
how well he play golf during his vacation, he replied “Far too
much variation to achieve zero defects.”
(In this situation, jargon was combined with humor.)
Pick and choose
among the tactics for building team spirit and team work from the
ones I have described. For best results, combine several of them.
These strategies and tactics are important because, although team
spirit and teamwork are subjective and abstract concepts, they are
more likely to be achieved by design than by fate.