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This chapter is from the book

Making Teams Work—Controlling the Cave People

With all of the time we spend working together in teams, we spend very little time learning how to make them work. Sure, we discuss leadership, we talk about buy-in, and we do our best to drive towards clear and meaningful goals. Yet, at the same time, at least half of corporate initiatives never make it from meetings to implementation, and more than 83 percent of corporate failures are driven not by external circumstance, but by simple failure to follow though. Obviously our knowledge of what it takes to make teams effective is lacking.

Without follow-through, we don’t have traction. We’re back to spinning our wheels. In order to get follow-through when working with a team in a corporate environment, several things are necessary:

  • First, we need to create momentum early on by establishing goals that are meaningful and processes that make sense.
  • Next, we need to understand the cast of characters we are working with. What motivates them? How do we activate them to invest time in our cause? And how do we prevent the naysayers and the energy-sappers from killing the project?
  • Finally, we need to create an environment in which each individual is accountable not to the leader, but to the team—so that the project and everyone involved in it becomes self-driving rather than requiring constant Sisyphean labor (pushing the boulder up the hill through sheer brute force).

Okay, so that’s the plan. Now how do we make it happen?

Laurence Haughton has written and lectured extensively about teams, performance, and follow-through. In his book, It’s Not What You Say... It’s What You Do—How Following Through at Every Level Can Make or Break Your Company, he warns us about the dangers posed by the cave people. That is, CAVE people: Citizens Against Virtually Everything. According to Haughton, the cave people are the ones in every organization who go out of their way to kill buy-in, spread negativity, and create failure:

  • Just like our bodies have an immune system that assaults everything new and unfamiliar, organizations have their own autoimmune response (a.k.a. the CAVE People) that attacks every new idea and change in direction. So, like doctors preparing a patient for a transplant, leaders must take steps to outmaneuver these antibodies in human form.

According to Haughton, that plan starts by keeping any cave people off your project until after you have generated some early critical successes. Having them around is not worth the risk, because killing projects by destroying other people’s enthusiasm is what they do.

Oddly enough, in his work as a business consultant, Haughton finds that many companies allow cave people to kill projects even though they recognize the danger they pose. “I get invited into companies after things have gone horribly wrong,” he explains, “and management’s got a dead initiative on its hands—or one that’s mortally wounded. I can’t tell you how many times, as I’m re-creating what went wrong, I hear, ‘I knew so-and-so would kill our buy-in.’ ‘Well, if you knew that,’ I think in my head, ‘why on earth did you let them on the team?’”

At first, it may seem uncomfortable or awkward to work around the cave people, but if you’re really going to create change, gain traction, and move forward, it’s essential.

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