8/11/2016

Killing Teams

One of the things I’ve written and thought about a lot over the last 30 years is teamwork, team-building, and team-wreaking. I recently read a book that had a lot of insight into the whole process, Smarter Faster Better, and that book also explained how easy it is to break existing teams. I have been blessed in my 50 year work career to have been on four excellent and productive teams. When those opportunities appeared, I wallowed in the incredible experience of being part of a group whose product dramatically exceeded the sum of the parts. And then they died and I mourned the loss almost as much as I would the death of a friend.

The first team experience I had was as a part-time employee of my step-grandparents’ flooring store. Initially, I was hired to sew scraps of leftover carpet into throw rugs for the store’s customers. It was the kind of beyond-expectations service my grandparents’ regularly delivered and one that taught me a lot about doing quality work (everyone involved in teaching me how to do that job had high standards for the work and product I would deliver to customers. From the blatantly gay accountant to the African-American and Hispanic and traditionally Midwestern  flooring installers to the sales people (mostly the store owners), everyone involved in that company’s purpose was committed to being the best at their job. I quit that job to make my first and last serious attempt at being a rock star, but I can still sew carpet and lay a pretty mean floor: tile, linoleum, carpet, or wood. I wasn’t bright or experienced enough to appreciate that first job’s environment, but it was an experience that stuck with me for a lifetime.

The next three team experiences were in industrial engineering, audio equipment manufacturing, and higher education. All three of those teams were formed without any sort of upper management guidance or serious support. They just happened, mostly because of the right middle management person at the right time. The skill sets in those teams were wildly diverse as were the team members’ education credentials. Each of these groups met and exceeded their intended tasks and goals. None of them lasted more than a couple of years.

Creating anything takes hard work and is always complicated. Any kid knows that breaking things is easy. Most MBAs and other mismanagement types specialize in breaking up teams and creating conflict for their own self-promotional goals. I suspect there is a Harvard MBA class titled, “Busting Teams and Making Youself Look Good in the Process.” I’d imagine the Wharton School of Finance has the same silly-assed class and Donny Trump might have even passed it.

A functioning country, especially a marginal-democracy like ours, is a lot like a barely-balanced team. When President Obama took over in 2009, that balance had been wreaked by banksters, war mongers and profiteers, and lousy management. Since he used the first two years of his Presidency to shoe-horn in the ACA, whatever momentum and clout he once had burned up in the effort. By 2010, the bare Democratic congressional majority was vanishing and the federal government was being filled with people who would rather see the country collapse and be overthrown by communists or fascists than succeed under Obama. This election, they might get their wish.

One thing we should all recognize as “truth” is that Donald Trump couldn’t build a successful team with someone else’s brain. Trump’s long record of buying and breaking things is a perfect predictor of the country’s future under his mismanagement. This is the national train wreak Republicans have been working (I know, poor choice of words.) and praying for since Reagan and if we aren’t incredibly lucky they will learn all about unintended consequences. Too bad we can’t get off of this train and watch from a distance.

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