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BW Businessworld

Analysis: A Rotten Apple

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The popular phrase “one rotten apple spoils the bunch” aptly captures the events depicted in this case. Teams are an integral part of organisations; yet, many teams fail to realise their true potential. This case is an instance of team failure due to conflict emanating from one person, Suyash. While observing the two main protagonists — Suyash and Apurva — we can draw lessons that might be helpful in our own workplace. An obvious question is: Who is responsible for the inefficient team showing — the employee, the boss, or someone else? 
 
Training programmes are a great place for triggering self-awareness and getting feedback. How others see you might be very different from your own perception. In spite of multiple cues from his boss, trainer and teammates, Suyash doesn’t realise that he is a very difficult person to work with.

There is hardly any self-realisation on his part. Apparently, the training programme seems to accentuate his problems with his teammates. 
 
Let’s revisit some cardinal rules of teamwork that improve performance. 
 
Effective communication: This is a two-way process and needs to be channelised towards achievement of team goals. It is not just about expressing your views with clarity. Active listening is also necessary for communication to be effective. However, communicating properly is not enough. Timing is essential too. Knowing when to put across a point is a skill. Suyash is confident and expressive. What he lacks is timing. Similarly, Apurva must learn to lend an ear to Suyash’s ideas. This will help the boss earn the trust and respect of his employee.
 
Open-mindedness: Not everyone’s ideas are or can be accepted in a team. One must not take it personally. One must be broad-minded to accept alternate viewpoints. Whining or sulking won’t help the cause. Always place the team before self. My-way-or-the-highway mentality is a recipe for disaster in a team. Suyash couldn’t accept even the slightest change of plan. He would often mentally detach himself from the team. He must learn to go with the team, especially after a consensus is reached. 
 
Me to We: Identify yourself with the team to foster the feeling of togetherness. Know your team and understand what it is trying to achieve. Align your goals with those of the team. Try to blend in. Support each other. Deliver what the team expects. Being nit-picky can be annoying and will slowly turn everyone against you. Offer solutions instead of pointing out the negatives. A secret to team effectiveness is everybody’s commitment to the course of action. 
 
Empathy: Being empathetic helps! Try being in each other’s shoes. Suyash is brutally honest to the point of being offensive in his comments. It is good to speak your mind but do it without sounding offensive. Not surprisingly, his boss is so doubtful of Suyash’s abilities that he simply cannot understand Suyash’s standpoint.

Leadership: If you are a team leader, you must seek out diverse viewpoints, give every member a chance to speak up, show initiative, manage conflicts and be a role model. A team leader must have regular conversations with his teammates to sort out differences, if any. 
 
What else can be done? At the organisation level, here are three additional suggestions: 1) assess teamwork’s suitability; 2) align the hiring process; 3) align the reward process. 
 
Not everyone is suited for teamwork; we need to acknowledge the importance of ‘solo warriors’ and create suitable roles where the skill sets of ‘star employees’ are properly utilised. This has to start from the initial hiring process. Often, we hire for individual technical skill set and expect the new hire to be a great team player. It is crucial that hiring decisions are clearly aligned with job descriptions. The organisation runs the risk of becoming dysfunctional if the hiring process, the reward systems, and the organisational culture do not come together. As a famous scholar stated, “We run into the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B.”  
 
The author is an assistant professor of Organisational Behaviour at the Indian School of Business
 
(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 01-07-2013)