Human Capital: 23rd Annual AmCham Human Capital Conference

A Discussion on Building a Collaborative Culture and Driving Business Results through Teamwork; Are Teams Driving Superior Business Performance?

By Kenny Lau


The discussion of “teams” and “teamwork” is often associated with competitive sports teams in the sense that they are well organized and are very strategic in what they do. The typical scenario: everybody has a role to play amid a unique kind of chemistry and camaraderie, said Karen Koh, Founder of Intermedia, in her conversation as moderator of a dialogue with Sara Yang Bosco, President of Emerson Electric Asia-Pacific.

Karen Koh, Sara Yang Bosco
Karen Koh, Sara Yang Bosco

How does it relate to driving teams for superior business performance? There are certainly many common principles between sports teams and corporate teams, says Bosco. They include discipline, commitment, loyalty and hard work, to name a few. The makeup in sports teams can be quite diverse. In some sports, you have people coming from all over the world and playing together.”

As a result,“there are differences in language and culture, and they may not even be friends when they are not playing,”she says.“But once they get on the field, magic happens and they are able to come together because of a common goal.”

Similarly, one of the main objectives of corporate teams is to achieve a common goal, Bosco points out. “Everybody is clear about what they’re doing and what their part in that objective is. You have the same dynamics of a sports team: lots of different people, and they aren’t necessarily friends of one another. That’s why we see a lot of emphasis on sports when we talk about driving teams for results in corporations.”

Why & How?

As president in the Asia Pacific region for a global B2B business which has largely driven a way of life far more efficient and productive through endless R&D and adoption of technology, Bosco is well aware of the critical component of team collaboration. “I think everybody wants to be part of the team, especially a winning team, and you want to feel that your participation is valued and is advancing

the goals of the team.”

“If I can get people to think alike – and people don’t have to think identically -and to understand the goal, then I feel I’ve done my job, and I feel everybody is able to have a sense of team participation,”she says.

Most corporations have a variety of ways to develop their teams to achieve a goal, and one way is by simply imposing a set of mandates, Bosco points out, noting for example a company-wide Emerson initiative called“perfect execution,”an end-to-end look at “understanding the customer’s needs, our design and execution of solutions and products to meet those needs, and how we measure ourselves.

“The initiative may not seem very team-oriented, but in fact if you’re looking holistically at a company like Emerson where we do R&D, supply chain, manufacturing, sales and post-sale service, you’ve got to bring everybody together,” she explains.

Organic growth-for which employees see a need and feel motivated to add value to a company-is another way of how teams are formed.“A good example is our large facility in Xi’an, China where it was originally set up as more of a back-office support service center,” Bosco notes. “Our people there believe they can do a lot more, and they initiated to play a larger part in our own internal food chain and implemented a number of activities and initiatives to drive collaboration in the organization.

“What we do is to provide an environment where people can bring up ideas and suggestions, and we really want to create a place where people can and do make a difference,” she says. “In many cases, they are not told to do it, but just feel they need the access to other expertise in other parts of the company. So, they create their own teams.

Employee Engagement

A critical component in driving a team towards success is people, and how they can be engaged to feel being part of a team. A strategic line of communication is key, Bosco says. “In our company, it really starts with our CEO David Farr. He has what we call the Office of the Chief Executive (OCE)-it is made up of the top five or six leaders of the company, and they act as a team.”

“It then feeds down into the organization through our planning process, which is extremely rigorous,” she says. “We set goals and objectives with our staff and communicate what it is that we’re trying to accomplish, and our people incorporate that in their day-today activities within the company.”

The challenge, tough, is that sometimes employees do not necessarily engender behavior conducive to teamwork all the time, Bosco acknowledges. “Everybody wants to be an individual contributor. At the end of the day, people want to be compensated for what they do, not what somebody else has done. That’s always a challenge, and it takes a mindset change through a fair amount of communication.”

And, it can be a very “thorny” process to integrate a new team of people from an acquisition of an external business into an existing system, she says. “This is not unique because there are differences. In our process, certain things must be done in the first 90 days: compliance, ethics, and other training. Then, the financial aspects of the business get incorporated very quickly.”

“For us, an acquisition has to be relevant to one of our five company platforms,” she adds. “It gives the new team a sense of belonging, and the receiving team a sense of accountability. The key is the training that we do at the very front end.

A job interview will tell very little about someone’s ability and willingness to collaborate within a team, Bosco cautions. “You are only going to spend at most an hour in an interview. Even if the person is doing rounds of interviews with four or five different people, do you really know how that person can interact in a team?”she says.“Unless you just throw them into a situation and see how they do, you really don’t know.”

How do you know someone will do well? There has to be certain core expertise, or expertise in something, as well as adaptability, Bosco suggests. “How are you able to adapt to circumstances and challenges? If you’re successful in your previous job, chances of you being successful in your next job are pretty good.”

“I” vs “We”

While teamwork is the collaboration of a group of individuals, it is not a simple formula by which a sum equals all the parts put together, largely because of the individuality of people. “Everybody has an ‘I’ in them; otherwise, you wouldn’t be part of the team,” Bosco believes. “How much of that comes to the front or how much of it you have to put behind is something everybody has to balance.”

“Sometimes you need the ‘I’ to come out-it takes someone to move a team to move into a different direction if it gets stuck so that everybody can follow along. That’s how leaders are identified,” she says. “If the ‘I’ comes out too much, it starts to have an impact on the dynamics of the team, and you start having fragmentation.”

“In that case, you need to recognize that the person will probably have to leave the team or the roles have to be redefined in order to try to mitigate against the tendency of that person,” she adds. “He or she may still have tremendous strength that they bring to a company. You just have to figure out how to get it work in a particular kind of environment.

The size of a team is also factor whether individuals can unleash their potential, Bosco points out. “In a big team, those who tend to be quiet will stay quiet, and those who tend to be out there in the front will definitely be out there in the front. In a small team, people can’t really hide, and they feel they’re part of a bigger objective as each person is a much greater piece of the whole.”

“It’s really our job to figure out how we can best engage our people, how we get them involved in other things that not only expand their role but allow them to continue to contribute,” she says. “Sometimes it does mean taking them off the team or moving them from one platform or region to another. It is really a balancing act of trying to bring them together.”

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