Many believe that with so many headcount reductions over the last few years, productivity per employee has now peaked. Generally, people cannot reasonably work any harder or longer, and we’re now getting the most out of our teams.

Team cultures often determine whether or not this is true.  Why do certain team cultures bring out the best in teammates?  How does great “chemistry” come about? Which leadership styles inspire the team members to give 110%?  A good starting point for this discussion is recognition that all interactions, however subtle or overt, either pull people closer together or pull them apart. Such interactions establish a team’s culture, which is the basis for either people pulling together toward highly effective collaboration, or pulling them apart toward discord and dysfunction.

In today’s working culture today, people are often going through the motions, as opposed to feeling passionate and genuinely enthused about what they’re doing. This culture often fosters obedience, where subordinates simply do what they’re told -nothing more, nothing less. They don’t want to or know how to walk the extra mile for their customers, or with their team.   Managers are usually reluctant to empower others to make decisions due to insecurity and fears about loss of control. Teammates are often hesitant to offer differing points of view and aren’t open minded to better ways of doing things. They may be fearful of the consequences of a “wrong” position or decision. There‘s often an absence of trust. They usually aren’t capable of respectful and constructive conflict resolution.  All of the foregoing is corrosive to an environment of effective collaboration. It’s easy to see why a large majority of people in the workforce can’t wait until 5:00 day after day. It’s rarely the work they’re doing, but, more often, it’s the group environment in which they operate that brings about apathy.  They’re working for a weekly paycheck, and they’re not fully engaged.  Team members are often stagnant, and go on year after year unfulfilled with their work. What does this say about leadership of these teams? They’re not getting the best that their people have to offer, and such teams routinely achieve mediocre results at best.

Conversely, there are collaborative partnerships where team members bring out the best in each other and enrich each other professionally. With these collaborative partnerships, the org chart hierarchy has relatively little influence on how people interact with each other. People feel comfortable constructively challenging the status quo, and differing perspectives are welcomed, encouraged and valued. Information is shared, rather than being closely guarded by any one individual. There are no hidden agendas. There are no silos with an “us-versus-them” mentality.  Team members easily move out of their comfort zone, and never worry about vulnerability within the group due to mistakes or weaknesses. The environment is positive and stimulating, and people feel appreciated and are energized and motivated to give it their best. There is a shared vision about building something extraordinary; goals and priorities are clear, with resources sensibly aligned. All behaviors and decisions are above board, and team members will not allow an individual to contaminate their culture with destructive gossip or negativity. The best talent is easily hired and retained. What does this say about leadership of these teams? Leadership is getting the best that their people have to offer, resulting in high levels of success.

As you read through the paragraphs above comparing these team cultures, which one seemed more likely to have employees eager to get out of bed in the morning, excited about going to work? Which one seemed more likely to yield higher productivity per employee?

Headcount reductions have taken productivity to where we are today. Leadership is now often challenged to further increase productivity. Command-and-control management won’t do it. The best way to do it is to transform to an environment conducive to team members pulling together and collaborating effectively. More will get done with limited resources. If you have the good fortune to be there already, congratulations are probably in order for your outstanding achievements.


Joe Accardi and Tony Cortese run the NY/NJ region of the ABL division of Sovereign/Santander. They are responsible for all of the new business, portfolio management, and credit functions of their collaborative partnership.

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