“The healthiest competition occurs when average people win by putting in above average effort.” — Colin Powell, former four-star U.S. Army general and Secretary of State.
As Tarzan liked to remind Jane after a hard day’s work, it’s a jungle out there. The business world has become more competitive than ever, given the global market and the exploding Chinese and Indian economies. While that also provides more opportunity, because the pie has grown bigger, we still have to scramble for our slices. We all require agility, efficiency, and speed if we’re to get what we need.
But it’s a jungle in here, too. A large organization by necessity consists of numerous teams, often competing for their chunk of the company slice. With limited internal resources, if you don’t fight for your team, you may find yourself dealing with scarce resources just when you need them the most.
In this article, let’s take a look at some basic ways you can fairly fight your corner and protect your team from poachers, budget cuts, downsizing, and all the other internal factors that can deflate your productivity.
Stand Up and Fight
Your team members may not expect you to fight for them in any sense. Most of us have seen too many self-serving CYA maneuvers over the years to really be surprised when a leader slinks off into “every-man-for-himself” territory. So why not surprise them by facing your in-house rivals like a team player?
Keep these things in mind when the going gets tough.
1. Present your needs forthrightly and clearly. Who do you think will get the resources he needs: the shrinking violet, or the fighter who stands up and asks for the necessary resources? Too often, I’ve seen people curse the darkness when they could have just flipped the light switch. If you can’t get what you want, stand up and ask for it. See your superior(s) and outline your needs clearly, especially if you’ve just landed something new and urgent. Don’t make demands, but don’t shrink from your duty to provide for your team, either. Remember: they can’t proceed unless you provision them.
2. Make it clear you’re still a team player. Even if you find yourself butting heads with other team leads as well as people higher up the hierarchy, make sure they know it’s not personal—that your intent is not to build your own little fiefdom, but to do your part in helping the organization as a whole succeed. Speak up and show your superiors where you’ve added to the bottom line. Handle your troublemakers, if you have any, so they don’t detract from your value. Continue to add value in every way you can, keeping in mind that time really is money. Innovate, ban negative talk, and continue to add new skills to your team skill-set so you can bid for new types of work.
3. If bureaucracy blocks you, work around it. When you find yourself dealing with what writer Albert Bernstein called “dinosaur brains” in his book of the same name, work around them. Don’t go over their heads unless you must, but do look for ways to meet your needs without having to kowtow to them and their altars of paperwork. A seminar participant told me about her senior VP who went to extreme measures when downsizings were occurring in her company. He was determined to keep all his people working, so he called in connections outside the company, pulled strings, and got new contracts to pay the salaries of his core group of employees. Their loyalty and commitment skyrocketed, because they knew their boss was fighting for them.
4. Stand up for your team members. Whether they’ve gotten in trouble for doing something controversial or the CEO has demanded you decrease your headcount, stand up and defend your people. They need to know you’re on their side come what may, even if your intentions aren’t entirely altruistic. This becomes especially true when someone tries to poach team members or cut your headcount to save money. Each person lost damages your productivity. So take a look at the situation, decide on the action you’ll take, and defend the team in a way appropriate to that decision.
5. Take one for the team. Nobody wants to take a body-blow when troubles come along, but to protect your team, you may have to. For example: if you head a large division and your CEO orders you to cut costs by $100,000 next quarter, find a way to make it happen that minimizes the damage. Now, I’m not telling you to give up part of your paycheck (although back when Lee Iacocca ran Chrysler, he cut his own pay to a dollar a year more than once in order to get his company back to profitability). You can, however, trim your travel, expenses, and bonus. If Circuit City had done that, instead of canning whole categories of experienced employees when they overreached and needed to save money, the company might still exist.
Put Up Yer Dukes!
In a business world where competition has reached all the way into the boardroom, you have no choice but to stay alert for vultures who want to swoop down and steal your people and resources—whether that makes sense for the company or not. When presented with shortages and the necessity for workplace competition, some people panic and do what they think they must to come out on top. Just keep your eyes open, remain calm, and block unwise attempts to take you down. Be a team player, verbalize your needs, and stand up for your rights without shirking.