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Why Passion-Driven Teams Are So Rare

By Daniel Bobinski

How’s your team doing? Is it focused and flowing, or does each day feel like a slog? My observations are that most teams today are nowhere near as effective as they could be. The reasons are many; lack of structure, lack of well-defined roles and responsibilities, and lack of communication, to name a few. But one reason overrides all the rest: a lack of passion.

Passion is strongest when it exudes from a natural source, such as identifying and working within your true vocation. The ancient Roman poet and author Virgil understood this when he wrote, “Your profession is what you were put on earth to do with such passion and such intensity that it becomes spiritual in calling.”

In a professional workplace, a person with such passion hopes for co-workers that share a similar mindset. After all, the passion levels of which Virgil speaks naturally give birth to deep levels of commitment, and commitment by all individuals on a team is necessary for teams to flourish. All it takes is one team player that’s not fully engaged, and the entire team suffers.

One place where teams often flourish is in the military. For example, during a recent conversation with a decorated veteran on the topic of camaraderie, I was reminded of the strong team cohesion I experienced when I was a member of a military unit.

My acquaintance and I both noted that we miss the synergy and effectiveness of strong team commitments. Even though my acquaintance now holds a prestigious executive position, his perception of most corporate leaders is that they are, “egocentric and driven by their own lust for glory rather than for the goals of the companies they lead.”

Additionally, he doesn’t see many of them building strong teams.

This conversation brought back vivid memories for me. Non-cohesive teams were an eye-opening befuddlement that I experienced after I left the military. Within a short time of becoming a civilian, I became acutely aware that strong team commitment rarely existed in the civilian workplace.

If passionate teams are rare in the workplace, it is not for lack of trying by some. Tom Peters is one who’s done a lot of trying. Peters is a prolific writer and oft-quoted management guru, and he travels the globe trying to instill passion into the corporate world. In fact, Peters includes the word, “passion” in several of his book titles. By the way, his books are unconventionally written, but all are worth the time to read.

Earlier I said that passion is strongest when it comes from a natural drive, but one must ask, “Can passion be taught? Can it be fostered?” The answer, I believe, is yes, but it takes effort. The key is to clearly spell out a team’s goals and objectives, and then find ways to tie those objectives to each team member’s value system. People tend to perk up and be more invested when their personal values are connected to the task at hand.

That’s where the work comes in, because knowing someone’s interests and values doesn’t happen by osmosis. Team leaders must genuinely want to know the people on their team and make those connections. The problem is that some won’t. And if they don’t, why should anyone else?

So perhaps you’re on a team but you’re not the team’s leader. You’re passionate about your work, but maybe your team leader isn’t. What do you do?

There are two schools of thought when it comes making a change with teams. The late Peter Drucker was often referred to as the father of modern management, and his philosophy was, essentially, “Start at the top.” At the other end of the spectrum was Stephen Covey, author of the popular, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. Covey’s philosophy was, “Start anywhere – just start.”

I happen to agree with Covey on this one. If you think your team needs to unite more around a common cause and your team leader seems to be going through the motions, you can be the catalyst to get things going. After all, there are positional leaders and there are “social” leaders.

In other words, you don’t need to hold an official leadership position to look ahead at what the team could or should be doing to be more effective, and engage others to think about those things, too.

You also don’t need a leadership title to daily inspire and encourage others toward the activities that will make the team more effective and efficient.

Nor do you need a leadership title to be dedicated and set a good example for others.

Large forest fires often start from a small flame, and large, thriving companies start from a basic idea. Of course, maybe you are in an official leadership role, but even if you’re not, you can still be a catalyst – if you choose to do so.

All of that said, I readily acknowledge that people might not have much interest in the work they are currently doing. A few years back I was facilitating a series of management training classes for bank managers, and after I talked about creating passion-driven teams, one of them came to the next training session and stated he was giving notice. After 10 years with the company, he realized his passion was elsewhere, and he decided he was going to shift careers and do what he was passionate about.

Also, there are people who don’t know their true calling. Some have never given it much thought, and perhaps others don’t want to know. For these reasons, managers and leaders can have a tough time building passion-driven teams.

Still, if you’re trying to build a passion-driven team, you’ll need to either learn about how your people are motivated and connect those motivations to the vision, or identify and recruit people who have a pre-existing, deeply held passion about the purpose of the team.

Neither task is easy, but that’s why passion-driven teams are so rare.

Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed., is a certified behavioral analyst, a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. He loves working with teams and individuals to help them achieve workplace excellence. Reach him through his website www.MyWorkplaceExcellence.com or 208-375-7606.

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