Nothing limits the success of organizations more frequently than dysfunction in how the members view their team.  From the C-suite (including parents) down, units and individual members often work against each other because they view each other as having opposing purposes.

Seeing each other as having the same ultimate purpose is a critical element of being on the same team. Roles differ. But no successful coach would want players whose attitude is that the success or failure of other parts of the organization is not their concern.  A team player assertively supports every part of the team. 

Roles should never be confused with and should always be subservient to the ultimate purpose. 

Yet far too consistently members of organizations see their role as the limit of their purpose, often because that is what they are taught to do. 

A department director boasted that what made another director and he an effective team was they stayed out of each other’s business.  By that nonsensical definition Mark Zuckerberg and I are an extremely effective team.

If an IT director sees his purpose as limited to the operations of the IT department, and a purchasing director sees her purpose as limited to the operations of the purchasing department, they are not on the same team with each other or with any other part of the organization.  There is no rational perspective that they are.

Occasional cooperation does not constitute being on the same team.  The United States and Russia sometimes cooperate on some issue.    

Doing someone a favor or trading favors does not constitute being on the same team.  If you have a common purpose, you do not view working toward that purpose as doing someone else a favor. 

Without synergism the universe could not exist, individual pieces when combined creating more than the sum of those pieces.  One plus one equaling more than just two is critical to the fabric of the universe.  And one plus one equaling more than just two is critical to the fabric of organizations. 

The only way individual parts of an organization can have synergism is for each to be dedicated to the success of the entire organization.  Individual members making their role as the extent of their purpose is by definition self-serving and limits the organization’s potential. 

When someone in a leadership position puts his role as the ultimate purpose, it sets an example and sends a message to those he leads.  That message is not that his role should be everyone’s ultimate purpose.  That message is that everyone should make their own role their ultimate purpose.  If self-serving is the example, self-serving will be the culture. 

Leaders more than anyone need to set an example that their ultimate purpose is more than just their role in the organization.

An extreme example today of team dysfunctional is Congress, and party politics in general.  Among the members who yell the loudest, there is not even a pretense that the priority is the wellbeing of the people.  The priority is not even the wellbeing of their own party.  The clearly expressed priority is to harm the other major party, no matter what the other party wants to accomplish.   

Disagreements in political ideology in the U.S. have existed as long as the U.S. has existed.  When combined with respect such disagreements are healthy.  Historically, those disagreements were often sincere, if not always respectful.  Today, when one party prepares multiple responses in order to denounce any position the other party takes (prepare to denounce yah or nay), there is no hint of sincerity nor rationality. 

The primary catalyst for the increasingly morbid health of politics today is the advent of mass media political commentators, who have made a very profitable art form of energizing self-righteousness, mistrust and hate.  Roman gladiators hacking each other to bits displayed more character. 

For over 40 years working in government, it was disheartening how consistently officials in different government entities resisted viewing themselves as having a shared purpose.  How can city and county officials possibly not see themselves as having the same ultimate purpose?  Any time I tried to discuss the advantages of working together with another government entity, the reaction was almost always derision.

Even when they wanted to work together, the officials in all of the agencies I interacted with were consistently mistrustful of each other’s intentions.  Observing the internal operations of county officials, most often if two officials joined forces it was only to fight a third.  There are exceptions when two or more government institutions align purposes and work together successfully on single projects, but those are exceptions.

Distrust among “competing” law enforcement agencies is so widely recognized it has been a common theme in TV shows and movies.  The dysfunction between federal agencies and the consequences were highlighted in critiques of the September 11 attacks. 

Because of all the public attention, there is evidence of sincere efforts today among law enforcement agencies to recognize their common purpose and work together as teams.  That should be an example for all organizations.

Of course, there is a huge difference between the failure of government administrations to work as a team and the dysfunction of Congress.  Many government administrations are successful in many ways.  Even when I was shaking my head at resistance to working together, there were many impressive things being accomplished. 

The dysfunction in government administrations defining their team results in missed opportunities to provide greater benefit to the people being served.  The dysfunction in members of Congress defining of their team results in almost complete breakdown.

It is convenient to use examples from government, because they are public and because I was eye witness for many years.  But it is surprising in most organizations how often egos are misconstrued as competence.  Egos (which will be the focus of another chapter) have real but limited value; and when they are overly relied on, they are self-serving are detrimental.

In my observations the dysfunction in how members of an organization perceive their team is just as prevalent in private corporations, and sometimes families. 

It is a consequence of our innate human traits, which we need from infancy and should learn to control as part of growing up.  We all tend to believe our role is more important than others’ roles.  We all tend to identify with those with whom we identify most and view groups with which we identify less as opposition.  We all have a tendency to view our own perspective as more legitimate than the perspectives of others. 

Fortunately, as we grow up we do learn to gain some control over our innate tendencies, so that we do not soil our diapers at the first impulse.  Unfortunately, none of us completely grow up in gaining total control over our inherent tendencies.  Some of us do not grow up as much as others.

Appreciating the true team and the ultimate purpose requires growing up.

Often I encountered department directors and managers who viewed their first priority as supporting their employees, even when those directors or managers knew their employees were wrong.  That is a failure in properly identifying the team and ultimate purpose.  It throws away the potential to identify better alternatives and find win-win solutions.  (I apologize for needing to use clichés, but win-win alternatives as well as synergies often do exist.) 

I have seen government directors and managers do favors for employees or for others when it was clearly detrimental to the best interest of the public.  Again, a failure in identifying the team and ultimate purpose, and a failure of leadership to set the right example. 

Not supporting employees when they are right is incompetent leadership.  But supporting them when they are wrong is just as incompetent.  By any logic it is detrimental.  It sends the wrong message to everyone involved, including the employee; and it breeds distrust from everyone. 

Enabling will not create a team.  Enabling creates enabling. 

We have all seen themes on TV and in movies about cultures within law enforcement of covering for unethical and/or illegal activity by fellow officers.  From experience I can tell you it occurs to some degree in many groups where there is a “brotherhood” culture.  The most self-serving individuals in any group, even families, will exploit a culture of “brotherhood” as a moral imperative to protect immoral behavior. 

Unfortunately, prejudice of one type or another is often embedded in brotherhood and in some cases expands to abuse.

Recently the local media published accounts of brotherhood covering for widespread sexual harassment within a state legislature.  There have been a number of allegations and proven cases of brotherhood covering for sexual abuse in sports programs.

Examples of brotherhood being misused have harmed the overall reputation of labor unions. 

Brotherhood can be a positive concept when kept in perspective.  That perspective should always be that the brotherhood is just a unit of a greater team (like the offensive linemen on a football team seeing themselves as a brotherhood, but not as the extent of the team).  Unfortunately, brotherhood is frequently manipulated to be seen as the only team and to create an us-against-them culture, which by course is a flawed concept of team.  

Spock (of Star Trek fame) told us that logic dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.  Almost always, the larger team (society) is the team that should be our first and greatest concern.  In government, the public we serve should always be our purpose.  Not the unit, or the department, or even the government entity—putting any of those before the public is self-serving and childish.

It is no different in business.  Organizations exists to serve people, not people to serve organizations.

In business profit should be a necessary strategy in accomplishing a greater purpose.  A business usually cannot serve a greater purpose if it does not make a profit in order to survive.  But if the ultimate purpose of an organization is just making a profit, society has no need for that organization.  Its existence will probably be, and should be, as short-lived as its purpose is short-sighted. 

Organizations exist to serve people, not people to serve organizations.  (Repetition intended.)

Leaders should consistently set an example of the ultimate team and the ultimate purpose, and set an example that role should always be subservient to purpose.   That is what makes a team.