Can the example of our government leaders be any clearer that teamwork is needed to solve difficult problems? When faced with a difficult problem, do our leaders come together to negotiate and creatively problem solve? The following example indicates that we are in dire need of leadership that takes effective problem solving and teamwork seriously.

March 1st marked the day when the sequester law went into effect. This measure was proposed by the President over a year earlier and agreed to by Congress as a last resort if the elected leaders could not agree to a better plan to cut budgetary expenses. Now here we are and our elected leaders were not able or willing to come to an agreement; consequently, sequestration became law.

There are conflicting views on how this will actually affect the economy, people, and services, as well as who is to blame for these across the board budget cuts. I think we can all agree that teamwork, not blame, when problem solving is needed. With effective teamwork, the best solutions can come forward and implemented. After all, is this not the desiredTeamwork at US Capital outcome?

Think about this for a moment: What if our elected leaders could come together and lay aside political differences, at least the major ones, and come up with a plan to productively solve problems for the good of the country? Would they not be setting an example of how effective leaders get things done? Would they not have better success solving difficult problems? Would they not have more credibility as leaders? We think the answer is yes on all points. It has happened in the past, and with strong leadership it could happen again.

Our elected leaders have attempted teamwork on some levels to solve some of the country’s budget problems; however, little is implemented and then, the solutions are not very well thought out nor complete. The proverbial can is kicked down the road with the hopes that a different day will make problems easier to solve or lead to a politically desired result. Effective leaders realize that when faced with looming problems, it is the responsibility of the leadership team to solve the problems for the benefit of the organization (or in this case, the country).

Teamwork Leadership Lessons

Effective leaders demand teamwork by first setting the example in bringing a diverse group of people together. Effective teams appreciate that the diversity of ideas is what contributes to the best and most creative solutions. In our example, we would recommend that the President convene a session at Camp David, his personal retreat, to solve the sequester problem and more importantly, the longer-term budget issues. Selecting a diversity of people from both parties, along with others who have expertise in teamwork and budgeting, they could work together to stimulate a solution for the benefit of the country.

Effective leaders realize that blame has no place in solving problems because it only serves to divide and delay a proper solution. Unfortunately, we have seen blame and scare tactics become the predominant theme regarding this issue. Leaders are elected or chosen to take responsibility and solve problems, not create divisiveness. John F. Kennedy summed it up well when he said, ” Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

What happens when a leadership team has ideological differences and any proposed solution conflicts with the desires of half the team? We admit this is a tough spot because there are a lot of skills the team needs to be successful – problem solving, conflict management, and negotiation are just a few. Here are just a few of our ideas for leaders in situations that demand effective teamwork, especially in difficult situations:

  1. Recognize that all ideas from the team have merit.
  2. Identify the consequences of not taking action. This can be serious, and if all team members understand the seriousness of the situation they are more likely to come together with a proposed solution.
  3. Identify areas of common agreement and start there.
  4. For areas where there is great divide, negotiate or implement both opposing solutions if they are not contradictory.
  5. Use data to help in making the best decisions. What is the current data, projected data, and what is the likely outcome of the team’s decisions? Data helps problem solvers to analyze risk.
  6. Bring in an outside facilitator to stimulate difficult team discussions. While we understand government officials may not do this, we have found this is a great tool to keep team discussions focused, positive, and moving toward a solution.
  7. Each team member should commit to working together respectfully and objectively, despite opposing viewpoints. This is common courtesy and should always be invoked with teams.
  8. Blame should not be used to coerce others to change or with intent to damage a team member’s reputation. If there is a team problem, it is the entire team’s responsibility, period. Blame has never solved a problem, nor should it ever be used.

Our country faces a difficult economic path, one that requires strong leadership that focuses on solutions, not politics or blame. In the past, leaders have worked “across the aisle” and reached agreements for the good of the country. This is needed now more than ever. This example can also be an important teamwork lesson for leaders everywhere who are called to solve difficult problems with differing team ideologies.

Sidney McDonald

Author, executive coach, and leadership expert, Sidney works with university and corporate clients in growing their talent and results within all levels of the organization.

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