Thursday, April 21, 2011

Feels Like Team Spirit

Easter is here and tourists are flocking in. They come expecting sun and what do they find? Oh well, never mind. What they also find is an abasement of language. While some words - gay, pants, sad - acquire additional meanings, some do not move on, but become un-words. There is no word that is as un-wordly as "team". Yet, the poor tourist will find him and herself surrounded by, confronted by, greeted by, wished by, served by teams. Tour operators have teams, hotels have teams, even some bars have teams.

"Your so-and-so team." We will be here to attend to your every need, we will be as one. One for all and all for one. We will all adhere to principles of the highest standards of customer service and will work to the greater good of the company we represent with shoulders-back, chest-out pride.

That's what you are meant to believe. That's what "team" is meant to mythically convey. It is of course managerialist doublespeak. The word means nothing of the sort, because it hardly ever means any of the above. It is an un-word.

Put two people together and you have a team. Put more than two people together and you also have a team. Actually, you don't. What you have are more than one person as part of a pair or a group. You do not have a team. But by saying that you do, you seek to convince customers - tourists - and probably also yourself, that you are somehow guided by some light of righteousness that will indeed attend to the every need. Team is an un-word and it is usually complete drivel.

There didn't used to be teams, except on a sports field. When management consultants realised that there were some new wads to be made, they delved into the world of sport and found that there were teams. They then highlighted examples of great teams. Liverpool FC of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the New Zealand rugby team under David Kirk in 1987, and others. They divined the factors that made for teams.

Shared objectives and goals, clearly defined responsibilities but also flexibility, clear lines of communication, total support from a leadership figure, the right systems, the right training, the right mix of abilities and skills. These were some of the factors, and some organisations set about putting them in place. They were not wrong to do so, and nor had the consultants been wrong to invent these factors. Away from the sports fields, some teams did emerge, but for the most part they were teams by name alone. Puffery, gloss, delusion and misrepresentation. Un-teams.

"You will be a team-player," usually in a fast-moving and dynamic environment. Thus chants the recruitment ritual, and so the tourist, in the hotel, at the airport or wherever will be in the hands of just such a team-player, even if he or she isn't and hasn't the faintest idea what it means. But they will have said they are, because what else are they supposed to say. "No, I am a socially-inadequate loser with psychotic tendencies."

Teams, team-players. They are lost in lexicography. But are found in teams because someone has said that they are teams and probably have the t-shirt or the uniform to prove it. And like sports teams, they will even have their names to add to the impression. Your reception team, your entertainment team, your kiddies-club team, your kitchen team, your toilet-cleaning team. They will smile from display units and will be teams.

Why do they do it? Partly because team is an un-word, one used by default and one now demanded by convention. But used properly, as in the concept of the team is applied correctly, then it can be powerful in delivering true service. Some businesses locally do deliver this, sometimes systematically perhaps and sometimes by luck or instinct. They do actually employ people who are genuinely team-players. They themselves have good team leaders. And more often than not, they are the ones which don't puff themselves up behind the "team" facade. They do it anyway.

Any comments to please.

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