You’ll hear the term “team player” used all the time. In financial institutions, the term team player is misused. There are no team players, there are only teams and players. When you hear the term used, say yes, of course. But when it comes down to doing it, forget it.
My stint at the National Westminster Bank of Canada
I have yet to go through my couple of years at NatWest Canada. That’s the subject matter of another post. But I would like to tell my readers of my experience at NatWest and the true meaning of the term team players. It’s not my intention to pick on NatWest, besides it’s not around anymore anyway. Most of the financial institutions that I worked for were similarly dysfunctional.
I arrived at NatWest with the title of Vice President. Now a vice president at NatWest was a fairly serious title, unlike the American banks who simply flashed it around for business card purposes only. I was a senior officer of the bank. My boss was in New York City and he, in turn, was a fairly senior officer of the bank.
My mandate as I recall it was to build the capacity of the bank in Canada to deliver interest rate and cross-currency swaps to Canadian corporations, governments, crown corporations and their agencies. A daunting mandate. Initially, I was the lone ranger in Toronto, supposedly supported by the much larger and dynamic group in New York.
Now in order to execute a swap you normally need two things in hand. A credit authorization and a swap document. In and of itself it doesn’t sound like much. But underneath, there’s a lot of work to do.
How it really worked
The guys that controlled the pen when it came to credit for a particular prospect were the bank’s relationship managers. A motley crew with different capabilities and levels of motivation. The RM would have to apply for the credit and assist in negotiating documentation. Apparently writing up the credit is a lot of work (not really sure what else they had to do given that the bank was at best a marginal player in Canada). And the structure of the bank was such that the RMs received little or no compensation for assisting me in getting a deal done. So the RMs were passive aggressive in their behavior. Outwardly helpful, inwardly doing nothing. So I had one rather staggering barrier to doing business at the start. It didn’t get any better.
The nature of the swap business is such that you need a lot of credit approvals in place to do your business. You never know when a counterparty may want to do a deal. So the RMs would have to initiate of a lot of credit requests. They always nodded their heads agreeably, but not much went on. Their out was that were already lines in place that weren’t being utilized, so why do more work?
I remember the politics around this issue, and the failure of the institution to adequately address the problem. So I was hamstrung (never mind the fact that I hated this stuff anyway).
So what’s the point?
Working in large organizations can present difficulties that you can’t even imagine. There was no goal congruence between my group and the RMs. So someone else controlled the success of my business. Not good. The reality is that others overcame these problems. By my nature, I’m a pretty conservative guy. Others would have executed transactions on the basis of a verbal credit approval to be followed up by paperwork. That just wasn’t the way I was comfortable doing things given that I was always unsure as to what the outcome would be. I worried about any possible negative outcomes. So I was the deer frozen in the headlights. Nowhere to go.
In the end, the inability to transact became personally overwhelming. Add to that the fact that I was pretty much a “fish out of water”. You can see where that leads, it’s the road to nowhere. The team never operated in a cohesive manner. The organization was fragmented by business lines and the proper incentives were never in place to facilitate real team work. And hidden behind this was the fact that pretty much everyone was in it for themselves, the team did not operate anywhere close to a textbook fashion.
Some will argue that my experiences are dated. Human nature, however, doesn’t change.
Here is a book that looks at the wonderful world of workplace politics. It’s All Politics Winning In A World Where Hard Work and Talent Aren’t Enough By Kathleen Kelly Reardon Ph.D. Kathleen Kelly Reardon, Ph.D., is a professor of management at the Marshall School of Business at USC, and the author of The Secret Handshake. A highly regarded consultant, she is a frequent guest speaker at Toyota, Xerox, Cigna, and other corporations, and has appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, and in numerous national publications. I should caution readers that the author has no real, hands on experience. Always a potential flaw in writings by academics.
In the end, it’s all about what you are getting paid and fulfiling any other aspirations you may have within the organization. I actually thought that we would all work together for a common goal. I was wrong. Everyone needs to survive.