It’s one of those days where I didn’t have an idea of what to write about so I started Googling random things. Just for fun, I keyed in “secret of effective teamwork.” I read a bunch of articles before my inner voice starting yelling: THERE IS NO SECRET OF EFFECTIVE TEAMWORK!!!
There is no secret of effective teamwork, just as there is no secret of healthy living, secret of successful relationships, or secret of pretty much anything else alluring but elusive. We all know what it takes to build an effective team. We’re just too lazy, too self-centered, too busy, too afraid, too talkative, too insular, too risk averse, too focused, too nice, too tired, too shy, too disinterested, too rushed, too passive-aggressive, too wimpy, to actually do it.
I guess it’s worth saying here that effective teamwork requires you to:
- Align your interests with your teammates and direct all of your energy toward what your customer and your organization is counting on you to do;
- Balance your participation so that everyone adds their full value;
- Connect with the people on your team and display empathy and trust; and
- Demonstrate that it’s safe to disagree, to look different, and to make mistakes.
(There’s a great new NYTimes article that describes Google’s research on these ideas.)
So instead of ranting about what you already know but still aren’t doing, let me give you a little pep talk. Below, I describe a few characters (or caricatures) from the typical team. Figure out which failure path you tend to slide down and use the associated pep talk to change the dialogue in your head.
I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt, so try starting the sentence with:
“I want to contribute to a great team, but…”
Option #1…I’m very nice, which can make me conflict avoidant.
Hello Mr. Nice Guy. It’s nice to meet you (really). I appreciate your kindness and concern for the feelings of your teammates. Unfortunately, you’re probably causing lots of problems by leaving issues to fester rather than proactively and calmly raising them.
- Maybe you withhold uncomfortable feedback because you don’t want to embarrass anyone. New storyline: I’m giving them the information they need to get better!
- Perhaps you avoid adding a dissenting opinion because everyone else is already aligned. New storyline: I’m raising the concern now rather than have it bite us in the butt later.
- You probably refrain from introducing uncomfortable topics because it will be divisive. New storyline: It’s better to work the issue through than to leave the rift under the surface.
Time for a new mantra: “I won’t pretend I’m nice on the outside if I’m not thinking nice thoughts on the inside.”
Option #2…I’m a driver, which can make me a steamroller.
Hello Ms. Gold Star. Your track record is very impressive. I love how I can count on you to get stuff done. Sadly, there is a trail of pancake-flat bodies behind you and they might have had something to say that would have improved the outcome.
- Maybe you worry that considering things from too many perspectives will cause analysis paralysis. New storyline: I’m investing in listening to a few dissenting opinions to get to a better solution.
- You only expect your teammates to show the same level of accountability to which you hold yourself. New storyline: If I take control, I only reduce everyone else’s accountability.
- I tell people how to do things so I can be sure the job gets done right. New storyline: As long as they get to the same outcome, I need to leave room for a different approach.
Do you get the point Ms. Gold Star? New mantra: “Get there with them, not through them. Get there with them, not through them. Get there with them, not through them.”
Option #3…I’m focused, which can make me a lone wolf.
Hello Mr. Self-sufficient. Long time no see! You’ve been off in your own world and what a brilliant, creative world it is. Unfortunately, none of us knows all the cool things you’ve been doing or how they fit into our collective plans.
- Maybe you’re an introvert and you prefer not to get into the melee of conversation in a meeting. New storyline: If I’m going off on my own, I need to make sure everyone knows where I’m going.
- I know what I need to do so I’m just going to go do it. New storyline: I need to wait until I understand all the moving parts.
- You are worried that the team will want to do things differently, so you don’t ask. New storyline: Better to find out now than later.
You need a new mantra. Repeat after me: “I am not a one person team. I am not a one person team.”
Option #4…I’m action oriented, which can make me disorganized.
Hello Speedy Gonzalez. I thought I heard the swoosh as you zoomed out of the room. You are a real doer and we sure count on you to get stuff done. It’s too bad that so many of the miles you log are spent backtracking because you went the wrong way.
- Maybe you feel like someone has pulled the fire alarm and you need to move… NOW! New storyline: I need to leave the building in a calm and orderly fashion.
- Perhaps you know something you can do to move things forward and you want to get at it. New storyline: It doesn’t make sense to go anywhere until I know where we’re going.
- Your mind is so crowded with complicated, blurry, unsolvable issues that it’s a relief when one piece of the puzzle is solvable. New storyline: Wait. I need to listen to the whole question before blurting out the answer.
You need a new mantra. “Go slower to get there faster. Go slower to get there faster. Go slower to get there faster.”
The secret to effective teamwork is you controlling your impulses and having the discipline to do what’s best for the team. Whether you’re too nice, too domineering, too independent, or too frantic, you’re letting your team down. Stop making excuses and start telling yourself a different story.