Team Management Systems
 

Teamwork: An overused buzzword or a real force?

By Ed Psaltis
Copyright © Ed Psaltis. All rights reserved.

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As the title suggests, most of us have no doubt been in a seminar or conference or work motivation session, and heard how important effective teamwork is. We tend to brush over what this means as we hear it so much, and the glass half-empty people will say; "That's all very nice, but we are operating in the real world now, not some perfect fantasy!"

Well I can tell you that on December 28, 1998 in the middle of Bass Strait, effective teamwork literally saved the lives of my 6 crew and I. After this experience, I tend to pay more attention to getting 'teamwork' right! As any sailor will tell you, this date was mid Sydney Hobart yacht race in the 'bad year'. Seven died during the worst storm in the history of the race, when the fleet was hit with a Category 3 cyclone as it entered the notorious Bass Strait (a nasty piece of work at the best of times!)

As owner/skipper of the 35 foot AFR Midnight Rambler, myself and crew weathered 80kt winds (150kmh) and waves reaching in excess of 60 feet, breaking at the top, to finally take first place overall in the Sydney Hobart race. When asked how we survived on such a small boat when others didn't, the obvious answer for me was 'the team'. When the going got tough we just worked harder as a team to beat the odds. As seven individuals we would not have survived but as an effective team of seven, we had a combined force that was powerful enough to prevail in conditions that saw us all, bluntly, close to death.

The crew had been together for many years when starting on our new boat on Boxing Day 1998. We had already developed a very strong ethic in that there were no 'rock stars' on our boat. We were all equally important, would be treated equally and each in his own way contribute invaluably to the overall team effort. What had taken many years to quietly develop was a feeling among us all that the team was more important than the individual. During the 24 hours of extreme conditions, we all individually went through a lot of physical and mental pain, for the good of the whole boat. The feeling, unspoken but incredibly strong, was that the team/boat was more important than the individual. By constantly propping up weaknesses in the crew as they appeared in these horrendous conditions and by playing to our known strengths, we created an environment where we were able to achieve what in hindsight looked to be impossible.

Since that life changing experience 11 years ago I have tried to carry lessons learned into all areas of my life, including at work, as a partner with national firm PKF, Chartered Accountants. While not always getting it right, there have been highlights in my work career where my team has taken on and beaten apparently impossible odds to pull off the goals we had. During these times, effective teamwork has been a key theme, using the same principles developed in my ocean racing career spanning 28 Sydney Hobart races now.

In sailing, we continue to achieve overall victories in major long offshore ocean races by not changing our well established methods of crew selection and development…we still have no rock stars on our boat, but gain our edge on good days through people (now 10) sacrificing themselves for the benefit of the whole unit, especially when the going gets tough.

In recent times we have had the pleasure of dealing with the Syncretics group in the US, as well as Quest Group Australia here in Australia. They saw great potential for others to learn from our story and approached us to understand more about our views, beliefs and behaviors around teamwork in a sport that, more than most, demands that we work together with our fellow crew to get the result. Recently Ron Jungalwalla at Quest Group Australia provided a session for all 10 current crew on AFR Midnight Rambler, based around the Team Management Profile (TMP). The TMP provides a clear and detailed account of the preferred team functional roles for each member and answers critical questions, including: "Where do my current functional preferences lie in my team interactions? What are the implications for how I can best relate to others in my team and with others?" The TMP also allowed us to 'map out' the preferences of the whole collective team, providing critical data on how the team can best manage itself strategically to maximize results.

The session proved very valuable in clarifying just what makes our boat tick, and why some strengths just came naturally, while others we had to really work on. Our view going in to this was, 'if it ain't broke don't fix it', that is, we have and are getting it right a lot of the time in the demanding sport of long ocean racing, however we can always improve.

A key result from the TMP session was that we all have very similar preferences on the Margerison-McCann Team Management Wheel. All ten of us were heavily biased towards the eastern side of the Wheel, naturally preferring areas such as Developing, Organizing and Producing (that is, we all like just getting on with the job and achieving the goals we set). None of us have a leaning towards the other side of the Wheel, being Innovating, Advising, and Maintaining. At first I was a bit concerned. Did this mean we really were a dysfunctional team with significant weakness? Ron's answer was definitely no. It is Ok to not have 'all the bases covered' on the Team Management Wheel, as long as you recognize this and take steps to make up for those areas where few of the crew are naturally inclined to gravitate. I believe over the years our team approach has implicitly achieved this, however the session as invaluable in clarifying to us WHY some things are easy, and others hard, in working as a crew.

There were many small lessons that we have taken away from this learning, all of which will simply increase further our effectiveness in completing long ocean races. One important example is that we have never been great at communicating information about race progress during a long (3 day) race, among the crew. We have access to huge amounts of data on weather, position of rivals, our progress on the results board during the race, etc. All crew on long ocean races crave information, and via effective receipt of that information, they can remain motivated over long periods in trying conditions. The Team Management Wheel showed us graphically why this has been an area that we have always been weak in. None of us were naturally inclined to "the western side of the Wheel" which is where gathering and disseminating information originates from. Since our TMP session we have recognized the weakness, understood why our crew finds this hard, and most importantly devised ways of making the information communication process mid race happen. So certainly the whole crew found participation in the Quest Group Australia TMP session beneficial. It clarified a lot of things for us. It clarified why we seem so naturally effective in many areas, and also clarified why other facets of our race seemed harder to achieve.

I would recommend the Team Management Profile processes to any team, whether in a business or sporting environment. In the end it just reinforced what we all learned in the 1998 Sydney Hobart race - ignore effective teamwork at your own peril...it is a very powerful, lifesaving, force.

Copyright © Ed Psaltis. All rights reserved.


Ed Psaltis has been a partner of large international accounting and advisory firms for 20 years now, both Ernst & Young and BDO. Ed has recently formed his own practice, E Psaltis & Co. Ed has devoted his life to the sport of ocean racing. As owner/skipper of now seven racing yachts Ed and his crew have won every major ocean race off the East Coast of Australia. This includes victory overall in the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Yacht race. This is an icon event globally in yachting and the 1998 race marked the toughest conditions ever experienced.

For more information please contact Ed at ed.psaltis@edpsaltisandco.com.

As Director of Quest Group Australia P/L, a specialist training and development provider, Ron Jungalwalla has designed and delivered customized programs for a wide variety of clients for over 21 years. Ron and his colleagues hold the sole licence to deliver the "Team Work At The Edge"® in the Asia Pacific Region. This unique and powerful program, unfolds in graphic detail the story of the Midnight Rambler, drawing the transferable lessons for modern high performing teams in organizational settings.

For more information please contact Ron at mail@questgroup.com.au or visit www.questgroup.com.au.
 

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