Friday, March 13, 2009

Team Work, Leadership and Knowledge Management

During the 20th century organizations became increasingly aware of the power of the effective combination of leadership, teamwork and knowledge management. Although a lot of research has been conducted about these elements, very few organizations really get it right so that teams and the individuals within teams perform at their optimum levels. This article will primarily explore effective leadership and teamwork and will use analogies from Africa to explain these organizational elements.

The quest to find what makes the magic of great leaders has been unceasing and will no doubt continue for many years to come. The debate around the genetic versus the environmental production of leaders and leadership has by no means come to an end.

There can be few experiences more gratifying for one interested in organizational growth and development than to watch a team come together and begin to weave its magical web of success into everything the team does. I suppose it is possible for this to happen by accident but generally this success is the result of a desire of all the participants to work together to achieve a clear and common goal. It often includes an infusion of ideas and energy from interested stakeholders. It certainly involves a great deal of networking and sharing between the important stakeholders and indeed amongst the team members themselves.

In the African bush the Lion’s entire survival is predicated on his capacity to work as a member of a team. Without teamwork Lions have very little chance of survival. This applies particularly to the male Lion that has less than 50% chance of survival at birth. If he can survive to adulthood, the moment he becomes a threat to the dominant male in the group he will either be killed by the dominant male. On his own out in the wilderness he has less than 50% chance of survival. Often he will team up with another young Lion that has been expelled from his group. Together they will work out a “modus operandi” that will ensure their survival up to the day they decide to find a group to challenge for the leadership and thereby gain a brand-new ready-made family. Only the fittest and toughest male Lions survive the exigencies of life and are able to play their role as a dominant male in the group. This process also ensures that the gene pool is constantly reenergized and revitalized with genes from only the best males. How do we make sure in our teams that our selection process is such that we take only the very best for the team?

The other thing that the Lion teaches us is the importance of role clarity within the team, not only for the individual concerned, but also clarity about the roles of other members of the team by all team members. Without this clarity, fleet-footed and nimble young male Lions and Lionesses will attempt to pull down a Buffalo Bull and the lazy heavily-muscled male Lion may even attempt the impossible- to kill an Impala.

Another wild animal that has a great deal to teach us about the power of teamwork and in particular how important multi-skilling is in a team is the Wild Dog. The Wild Dogs hunt in packs and kill by attrition.

All the herding animals Like Buffalo, Duiker, Zebra, Wildebeest and Elephant have a great deal to teach us about the power of synergy and the , as yet untapped, resource of intuition. Great teams have these in abundance. When you watch great teams working there is a great deal of overt communication but there is also substantial subliminal and intuitive communication between the members of the team. This is not something that can easily be taught and certainly not something that happens quickly. It is a faculty that develops over time and requires focus and hard work to achieve and inculcate into each member of the team and the team as a whole.

Of all the animals, the Eagle epitomizes the best type of vision that great leaders bring to the organization. They are able to see both the big picture and each element of that big picture with great clarity and perspective.

One of the major misconceptions about leadership is that it is about the leader. If one examines the behavior and activities of the great leaders that have succeeded beyond all dreams and against all possible odds, it is clear that leadership is much more about followership. The simple fact of the matter is that without followers, leaders have no role. Great leaders therefore understand this dynamic fundamentally and have learnt to tap in, to be part of, and live, actively and energetically, amongst those who follow them.

Knowledge management has a number of characteristics; it is data organized into an understandable and clear framework, information that can be applied and knowledge that has been shaped by experience/life. Wisdom is when knowledge has been tested and shaped by experience and by the success and failures in the University of Life.

We know that the world’s best businesses have learnt that the route not only to survival but to growth and development in the new era economy will certainly include learning faster than the competition. Excellent teams are characterized by a culture of trust, openness and sharing, and a shared common vision. The important thing to remember here is that one cannot just focus on teamwork or leadership or knowledge management. The model that one builds for the business should be one that takes all three of these into account and builds an interconnected and synergistic plan. It must ensure that the three components are also part of every activity engaged in by business and in particularly training and development activities.