Rescuing the Promise of Teams

By Donald R. Farr

Unfortunately, just as calling a horse a “cow” will not produce milk, the act of calling a group of people “a team” will not produce positive productivity results. Much has been said about “teams” and “teaming” as a solution to help   solve  many  corporate dilemmas.   The majority of companies, from the Fortune 500, to smaller family owned businesses, have pulled together a group of people and called them a team. Billions of dollars are invested for individual and team development every year.

Companies desiring to maintain a competitive place in the market have seen teams as the answer to downsizing and accelerated change prevalent in business today, by improving quality, reducing costs and cycle times. Teams, in most cases, are teams in name only, and most companies are reporting only slight if any gains in productivity.   Sadly, most efforts to build teams fail to recognize that we have not received much from our society that helps us work together.

From cradle to grave, we are being taught to ‘protect our turf. From the School Board to the Corporate Board Room, that scenario in America has not improved and is becoming even more polarized.

Part of the problem is that from grade school forward most of us have been graded on a competitive   “curve”,   which singularly discourages teamwork or the sharing of helpful information.   More and more advertising and television programs focus on “I” and “Me”, instead of “We” and “Us”, adding to the problem. In the last few decades most performance evaluations continue to focus mostly on individual productivity.   With all this, it is only natural for us to have difficulty working together. We cannot do it at home much less in the workplace.

Compounding the problem is “downsizing” itself, which creates fear and distrust in the hearts of employees who don’t know if or when they will be next to find themselves out of work.   Downsizing may be a politically correct term, but it has created a workforce of employees who are much less loyal to the company that employs them than at any time in history.   All the Employee Recognition programs and all the training in Self-Awareness, Empowerment, Diversity, Self-Directed Work Teams, etc., cannot  overcome the overwhelming fear and lifelong conditioning we’ve experienced that tells us to “look out for Number One”. Many workers feel that their trust has been betrayed, and have an increasingly difficult time showing trust to other workers, who, after all, may be looking for “their job”.

Even a major effort by one Fortune 500 company to demonstrate it’s loyalty to employees   has recognized that the success of their program will first have to be to rebuild this trust which, to succeed, may take a number of years.  In the  training realm, Covey’s Principle Centered Leadership™ and others have done a yeoman’s effort to try to improve productivity and enable individuals to reach an increased level of accomplishment, but still, across the country, teams are failing to live up to their promise.  There is one company that has developed a system for teams that has made measurable strides,  through their Maximizing, Joint Productivity’™1 learning   experience.

The Thoren Group in Tempe, Arizona,  headed by Don Thoren, has been working with Motorola,  Honeywell,   JD Steel and other businesses and governmental   agencies with success  for  over two decades, because they have put the major responsibility for learning how to  team effectively, on the team itself. Using a unique “self discovery” process,  they lead  the individual team members, and the team, to gain insights into how they process information that reaches their “belief level. The Thoren Group is able to demonstrate a 5 to 7 percent increase in productivity in just four months. Equally impressive is that they also have recorded decreases in worker stress of 15 percent at the same time.

This is good news for teams, and team members, who have received the mandate to rescue the company,  while languishing themselves. Thoren’s solution is to help people learn to trust themselves and others and then turn that trust into  pluses  in interpersonal interaction.   His team guides participants to see how they can listen more effectively, and work together to search for what they call “the Third Idea”… solutions that truly are better.

With results like Thoren has been demonstrating, perhaps there is help on the horizon for teams after all, and the “Promise of Teams” can be realized at last, as team members’ skills and trust grows.

© 2004: Donald R. Farr. Mr. Farr is President of National Consulting Services  He may be reached at 602-998-3919 or

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