In his book “Teamwork Is an Individual Skill,” co-written with Meri Aaron Walker and Erin O’Toole Murphy, Dr. Christopher M. Avery boldly proclaimed, “Becoming skilled at doing more with others may be the single most important thing you can do to increase your value regardless of your level of authority.”
This statement makes good sense and sounds like a great idea, but how does it happen in an age of disruption? Teamwork has always been challenging for the training and development profession. Now, faced with the uncertainty of remote working and the demands of digital connectivity, it has become increasingly difficult for individuals to find value in teams.
The tenets of teamwork provide guidelines for doing well with others by showing us how to build and sustain cooperative relationships even from a distance, so that when disparate viewpoints threaten to hamper performance or disrupt productivity, the focus is on the task rather than the individuals involved.
Before joining forces with another person, ask yourself, “How do I benefit from this relationship? What’s in it for me?” At first, it may appear that very little good will come from it other than receiving credit from completing the task. You may have to dig a little more deeply before you discover that you really need what the other person brings to the relationship.
Even if you have negative feelings toward other people, you will never know for certain until you work with them long enough to confirm your suspicions. Think of it this way: Unknown co-workers bring to the job a unique set of abilities that, when matched with yours, has the potential for improving the likelihood of success for everyone involved.
Something heartwarming and emotionally uplifting happens when previously estranged individuals complete a difficult assignment together that none of them could have accomplished working alone. A collaborative spirit emerges, your desire to continue the relationship increases and you all feel motivated to aim higher on the next project.
When working with others, the priority is to establish a common purpose before the work begins. Without that common purpose, you will waste a good deal of time and energy arguing over what to do and where to start. You’ll also be more likely to make a mistake or do something you’ll regret later.
Problem-solving and decision-making are two distinctly different processes. Working on both simultaneously is likely to create uncertainty and divert team energy. Solving a problem calls for people who are skilled at recalling intricate details and remembering who said what to whom and when. It makes sense, then, to begin the search for a solution by sharing your collective memories of what could have caused the deviation from expectations before seeking a solution.
Making decisions, on the other hand, is more about using information from the past to control what happens in the future. It calls for opportunity-minded people who are good at forecasting and thinking ahead. In order to develop a common purpose on which to base the right decision, you and your teammates must first agree to refocus your attention on what lies ahead.
First impressions are not always the ones you want to rely on when it comes to working with people you don’t know well and whom you don’t have any reason to trust. It is hard to respect other people until you give them an opportunity to apply their talents.
Other people bring to the team valid expectations of how to accomplish the task — something you cannot understand unless you invite them to share what they know without judging them. A mutual exploration of individual expectations is an opportunity to clarify everyone’s position while gaining a better understanding of what each person anticipates should happen when the actual work begins. It is the first step in building mutual respect.
Whenever contact is made between two or more people, communication occurs. Hand gestures, tone of voice and body posture all having meaning; even silence conveys a message. When working with others, your challenge is to communicate in a manner that clearly conveys your intentions and leaves no doubt about your expectations of them.
Cooperative relationships thrive on accurate information that produces a satisfactory result, so it is important that you say what you mean, mean what you say, and do not make any commitments or promises you are unable or unprepared to keep.
It is critical to identify teammates who are trustworthy and communicate with them directly rather than through intermediaries. Tell them you want to know the truth about what they are hearing from other sources, and let them know that if they modify or withhold the facts, you will not be able to rely on them again.
A Neutral Attitude
Conflict is a sign that something critical to a relationship is missing or has changed. Rather than argue with the other person, take a neutral position until you have updated each other on what has transpired since you last communicated. Circumstances change quickly during a period of disruption, so there is a good possibility that you both may be lacking the most recent information.
When discord does occur, strive first to understand what is blocking the way toward cooperation. Start by searching for additional information to help clarify ambiguity and/or to challenge inconsistency before deciding on a course of action. If you cannot resolve the conflict quickly and easily, set it aside for the moment so it doesn’t disrupt your workflow.
Disagreements provide a natural opportunity for teammates to identify their differences and work together to find a creative resolution. The key objective is to agree to disagree until you have more clarification.
How These Tenets Pull People Together
Cooperative relationships objectify rather than personalize individual performance. When that shift occurs, it becomes clear what (not who) is wrong and needs to be changed or corrected. Strained relationships that were once a source of pain and frustration become a source of satisfaction and enjoyment. What follows, then, is the realization that by putting your faith in others, you can overcome even the most difficult challenges.
Consistently adhering to the tenets of teamwork during a period of disruption will earn you a reputation as someone who works cooperatively with others under difficult circumstances. Being known as one of the vital few who get things done is worth pursuing and will serve you well throughout your career.