Fostering Teamwork Mis-Understood By Most Small Business Owners

Workplace Success

shutterstock_163823261While having lunch with the CEO of a small not-for-profit organization looking for my help to improve their operation I was told improvement was needed in the area of “teamwork.”

She told me, “we need to get people working together more like a team. Right now everyone just works in their own silos.”

I was familiar with the term silos as it relates to large organizations that have multiple departments and divisions with a lot of employees in each area, but had not yet heard it in the context of a small business like this.

So, I asked, “how many people are you talking about that are working in silos.”

She said, “we have six total employees, in addition to me and my CFO.”



I was flabbergasted that six people in one small office working towards a common mission for a regional not-for-profit organization were self-selecting to work in silos.

So, I asked this small business CEO, “how do you promote and reinforce teamwork? Is it a part of the performance expectations you set and do you monitor it, give people feedback about it and make it part of their annual performance review?”

She looked at me like a dear caught in headlights, and said, “should I?”

She is not alone.

Small business CEOs often expect teamwork just “to happen.”?

The thinking is “we’re a small organization and have limited resources so we all need to work together.”

For two reasons this thinking IS the problem.

First, the small business owner preaches incessantly about it so employees begin to tune it out with the voice of authority turning into the voice of the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons “wah wah wah wah.”

Secondly, planting the belief in limited resources creates a mindset of scarcity, causing employees to want to keep those resources for themselves, and it develops a belief that if “someone else has success it will come at my expense.”

In addition to asking my lunch partner whether she included teamwork in her employees’ performance expectations and reviews, I also asked what incentives were in place that fostered teamwork.

She had none.

The reason “teamwork” works on the athletic field, in addition to the fact that most roles on a team are extremely interrelated (although there are plenty of examples of selfish, individualistic focused athletes on team sports), is that the rewards are the same for all.

In both athletics and business, athletes and employees will be earning different salaries, but the ends rewards when team success is achieved (e.g, the team makes the post season playoffs, or wins the championship) are identical for all teammates.

Teammates on championship teams earn the same three primary rewards:

  • An equal dollar figure from the playoff pool share awarded to the championship team (this is regardless of players’ salaries, for example a veteran athlete earning $5 million a year and a rookie earning $500,000 a year, will get the same playoff pool share bonus, if their time on the roster was equal for the season).
  • The “championship ring” as the memento of the accomplishment.
  • The label of a “champion” each athlete can use to leverage their value in future contract negotiations.

This small business CEO did not have the two key ingredients in place for teamwork to manifest in her workplace:

  • an expectation of contributing to teamwork in the employees’ performance requirements, and
  • incentives rewarding everyone equally for team/group success.

As a small business owner desiring teamwork from employees those two ingredients must be present.

Are they?

If not, don’t expect teamwork to manifest.