Business leaders revere teamwork. It is called a “force multiplier” and “secret sauce” — that intangible advantage that enables companies to strike first and get things done. Let’s face it: There is something noble about elevating the common good over the individual, of fusing diverse viewpoints to achieve something unimaginable on our own. Maybe that’s why sports metaphors are so popular in business. A fluid and disciplined team is a wonder to behold. They operate with one mind and one heart. They anticipate each other’s movements, amplifying their strengths in the process. Together, they push past their limits and celebrate their shared sacrifice when the goal is reached.
Like anything, teams are short-term gatherings. There is always a new threat that requires different people to band together, ones who may possess different backgrounds, temperaments, and skill sets. There are no magic formulas or research-laden blueprints that will guarantee these new teams will succeed. Fact is, dysfunctional is more common than adaptive. Teamwork is hard —and it goes against many of our biological instincts and cultural norms. Fact is, it is easier to act without asking, point fingers without reflecting, pay lip service without understanding, or just phone it in without actually trying.
THERE IS NO ‘I” IN TEAM
How do you balance individual expression with group mission? In September, the University of Pennsylvania’s Organizational Dynamics program opens a new section of its popular Building High-Performing Teams MOOC. The course is co-taught by Dr. Aviva Legatt, who teaches courses in diversity and organizational dynamics as an affiliated faculty member with the University of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Derek Newberry, a business anthropologist and consultant whose courses examine corporate culture, communication, and teamwork at Wharton Executive Education. Newberry is also a co-author of Committed Teams: Three Steps to Inspiring Passion and Performance.
Drawing on their research and consulting experience, Newberry and Legatt approach the issue of teamwork with their clear-eyed view of the scope of the problem. “You hear from executives all the time: ‘I have the right strategy, why can’t I get my people to execute,’” Newberry tells Forbes in a 2016 interview. “It comes down to collaboration skills. It’s hard to bring people along, hard to get people who have own interests and reference points aligned around a collective set of goals.”
Structure is a big part of the course. It opens with exercises on how to set ground rules for teams, along with clear goals to achieve and roles to follow. In doing so, team leaders are able to set a tone and expectations for everyone to follow. Rules and roles, in themselves, are hardly a panacea, Newberry notes. Instead, they are a starting point that sets the stage for the harder day-to-day grind.
FOSTERING TEAMWORK — A JOB THAT NEVER ENDS
“No matter how good conversation are in the beginning, no matter how energized, teams will come apart,” he writes in Smart Business Online. “There are external, environmental challenges. Teams change personnel. One way or another over time they become misaligned.”
What can you do to get them back on track? For Newberry and Legatt, the first step is to identify where and how the misalignment is happening. This includes self-reflection, where students can look at themselves from another’s experience and understand how they may be contributing to conflicts. From there, the course focuses on tools that students can apply to keep their teams focused on the meaning and the impact, with a special emphasis on coaching that enables team members to gain emotional intelligence.
A high performing team, says Newberry, demands constant attention and maintenance. For leaders, that’ll require them to get their hands regularly dirty. “It’s not something that you can just learn in a lecture and then go out and apply once and think your work is done,” he tells IndustryWeek. “It requires a lot of practice.”
LEADERSHIP AND MARKETING AMONG TOP OFFERINGS IN SEPTEMBER
This is one of many impressive MOOCs starting after Labor Day. In the leadership area, Vanderbilt University is launching Strategic Innovation Toolkit for Managers. It is designed to help students tap into their wild and creative side to solve business challenges — a theme that is also explored in Michigan State’s The Search for Great Ideas: Harnessing Creativity to Empower Innovation. For managers looking to sharpen their ability to give praise and criticism, the University of Colorado is offering another round of Giving Helpful Feedback.
In September, firms begin gearing up for the holiday rush and hitting their fourth quarter numbers. How can companies separate themselves from the pack? They can start by absorbing the proven and innovative solutions laid out in IE Business School’s Positioning: What You Need For a Successful Marketing Strategy. Wondering how to deriving money-making insights from the mounts of data you’re collecting? Check out Emory University’s Meaningful Marketing Insights, a five week tour de force that chops high level analytics techniques down to size. If you’re wondering what 2018 will bring, sign up for the University of Michigan’s Model Thinking, which teaches students how to choose and execute the right forecasting models to formulate the best results.
Beyond that, the month boasts several courses that de-mystify financial risk, including two MOOCs from Gautam Kaul, one of the leading minds in the finance industry. For professional interested in logistics, the non-verbal language of business, MIT — the top MBA program in the field — is back with courses on supply chain design and technology. If entrepreneurship is your passion, September brings courses on everything from early phase development T to social enterprise.
To learn more about these courses — and many more — click on the links below.