July-August 2018 | GETTING THE JOB DONE

GETTING THE JOB DONE
Author Joe Curcillo

BOOK SMART

GETTING THE JOB DONE

Both a former prosecutor and defense attorney, business consultant Joe Curcillo draws on his unique experience to pull people in the workplace together, for the betterment of all

Written By: Nick Brandi

Joe Curcillo might very well describe himself as a shark. Not in the sense that he’s circling hapless beachgoers in the ocean or monomaniacally trolling for profits at the expense of his humanity. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: This attorney-turned-business consultant is monomaniacal only when it comes to helping businesses maximize their bottom lines through team-building and the creation of an enriching work environment for everyone. So convinced is he that team-building is the key corporate strategy of the 21st century, the part-time Bethany Beach resident has authored Getting to ‘US’: Discover the Ability to Lead Your Team to Any Result You Desire, published by Thought Emporium, Ltd.

Coastal Style spoke with Curcillo recently, to get his perspective on the modern-day workplace and what employers can do to get the results they seek.
 

CSM: What kind of law did you practice and where did you attend law school?

JC: For the majority of my career, I focused on criminal law. The first half of my career I was a prosecutor, and during the second half I was a defense attorney. I have a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Temple University, and a juris doctor from Temple University School of Law.
 

How did you get involved with team-building?

That is an interesting question, because I think that we are all involved in team-building in everything we do. The first time I recognized the importance of team-building was when I studied trial advocacy at Temple Law School. As part of the training classes, they broke us into teams. How well you performed as a team directly impacted how you did in the class. I guess, when I think about it, the same was true while I worked toward my engineering degree. Individuals did not build buildings and highways; teams do, but I never thought of that until you asked. When I began practicing law, I worked in the district attorney‘s office. I quickly realized that the office had to operate as a team to be successful as administrators of justice. I could not put together a proper case without coordinating my team of victims, witnesses, police officers and the other various agencies involved. It was up to me to lead the team if I wanted to be a successful prosecutor. I knew that as a trial lawyer, I never really worked alone. My team won, or I lost.
 

How long have you been advising companies on the merits and virtues of team-building?

The answer to that is my entire professional career. I always sought out positions where I could find challenges to getting people to work together. In doing so, I realized that my counterparts in other departments or agencies were in the same situation. So, offering advice to other team leaders, brainstorming problems and teaching the effectiveness of teams became second nature. In later years, I offered my services to clients, the private sector and charities, to help them become a more effective cohesive unit.
 

In what ways, if any, do you feel that your law background helped prepare you for or make you better at advising companies on effective team-building strategies?

The advice that I offered companies was usually to help it grow more in the marketplace and become more functional. Rarely was it a matter of life and death. In law, the ability to build the team was to protect someone’s freedom and life. Therefore, the fact that I learned team-building under life-and-death circumstances makes advising corporate clients more strategic with less pressure. If a client corporation is in a difficult situation, and they are facing a potential ticking time bomb, I thrive on that pressure.
 

How does an employer go about measuring the success of a team-building strategy over time? In other words, how does an employer know his team-building efforts are working?

All great leaders have a clear vision and a goal. The leader need only look at the team to observe the progress and make sure that there is constant motion toward the end zone. By creating a single unifying vision that binds the team together, the leader only needs to be sure that the team is always heading in one direction. Every player has a role to play, and every player must have their eyes on the same prize. So, look at the bottom line. Look at the progress. Look at everyday interactions. If they are heading in forward motion, you have built a unified team. 

 

How does an employer decide how much money to spend on team-building activities in the course of a fiscal year?

I think that is a difficult question. It’s sort of assumes that team-building activities are exercises that occur on a periodic basis. I firmly believe that every day that a team comes together to work on a project is a team-building exercise. Every penny that you, as a corporate executive, put into your management team is money spent on team-building. Leaders should spend their day leading the team. In my mind, that means they should be building the team every day.
 

What are some classic examples of team-building activities that virtually any company can utilize?

Based on my prior answer, the ultimate team-building activity is to focus everyone on the end goal. Making solid leaders, no matter what the size of their company, who pay attention to the skills, qualities and abilities of the individual players on their team is essential. Once you have a handle on the abilities of your players, point them in the direction that allows them to best feel satisfied by contributing to the cause. It is not an exercise. It is an everyday reality.
 

What role does the size of the company play in determining the kind and number of activities per year it should engage in?

Not every company can pay for team-building party days. So don’t. No matter the size of the company, management must realize that team-building is an integral part of their jobs. It does not cost money to listen to the needs of the employees. It does not cost money to simply humanize your staff. Frankly, some of the smaller companies I have worked with cannot afford any “team-building exercises.” They are just too small and don’t have the ability to take a day off to have a team-building rally. But, they are small enough that a little bit of personal attention paid to the individual employees will yield great benefits and create a cohesive team.
 

For companies that don’t have a lot of employees or deep pockets, what are some effective activities that they can do to reap some of the benefits of team-building?

This is a topic requires more time than we have here. If I may draw from an article that I have written in the past, the short answer is once a manager has amassed and organized the knowledge she possesses in her industry, leadership is about finding the “GLUE” that binds your team together. GLUE stands for:

Gathering information on your team members

Listening to the team members

Unifying the team by finding each if their niches

Empowering and Execute your vision

While I can spend a lot of time discussing the intricacies of each of the about four areas, for today, I suggest just being aware of the four steps is a good start, and it deserves reflection.


Are there ways in which you’ve seen team-building activities and strategies evolve over the years?

Absolutely. People do not want to be pampered. They no longer want to feel important, they want to be important. The company needs to build the team from the top down. Today, the leaders need to be trained to be more aware of the players and learn what the team is capable of accomplishing. The best strategy in today’s world is to find a role a person can invest in and allow that individual to achieve their potential. Nothing will build a better team than on-the-job action. Teams will thrive when the leaders know how to trust and empower.


Do baby-boomer staffs get motivated by different things or different approaches than might Gen-Z, Millennial or now, Gen-Z workforces?

Actually, I believe that all generations want the same thing. People are people. If they are given an opportunity to achieve their own level of nobility and honor within an organization, they will feel good about what they are doing. It is up to the leaders across all generations to find team roles that everyone can accept. Not every player on the football team needs to be the quarterback to feel like they are contributing. Do not be as concerned about the generational differences; instead, we should be concerned about the needs of the individual players. Then, help each person become the best that they can be in the role that you have assigned to them. If your strategy is simply to allow each person to shine, generational labels mean nothing. Everyone wants to be a valued employee. Find their value, or, dare I say, they may not belong on the team.
 

Can you share a couple of examples of create, unique or outside-the-box team-building activities that you’ve advised companies to do or that you’ve seen them do?

There are a lot of fun team-building exercises. I’ve seen people do trust falls, scavenger hunts and crazy camping trips. They’re all fun, and they get everyone out of the office.... But these temporary measures do not take the place of listening to and respecting the team. I believe that the team is built from the top down. You can teach team members to trust each other, but the real goal is getting them to trust and produce for those leaders. No exercises or games can replace a leader who knows her team and their individual abilities. I once attended a team-building party where the team members played games and bonded. The team leaders stayed back at the office to hold down the fort. I flipped out. It was the leaders who needed training.


What are some of the most common or most important DON’Ts that companies should be mindful of when planning team-building strategies and/or activities?

As I was saying earlier, team-building exercises are fun. Unfortunately, too many companies rely on the motivational-type and excitement exercises. The end result is a temporary placebo. The results are not long-lasting, and in many situations, the employees are just looking for more funding for game time in the future. The focus of a real team-building effort needs to be productivity and results. So, birthday parties and pizza parties are always fun, but the company should never lose sight of the reason why the team is in existence. Allow your team to feel good about their accomplishments and achievements. Celebrate the end goal, and do not make the mistake of celebrating before you cross the finish line. So many employees return from team-building workshops laughing about how much fun they had but never really understanding how it related to the work they have to do. That is a mistake. Instead of worrying about random activities, focus on how each member of your team can play an active role in making your unifying vision unsinkable. Then, lead, trust and empower. That will build the team of your dreams!


Joe's book, “Getting to ‘US’: Discover the Ability to Lead Your Team to Any Result You Desire,” is available on Amazon. To learn more about Joe, visit JoeCurcillo.com.


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