The Trouble with Teamwork

A team is defined as a number of persons associated together in work or activity: as a group on one side (as in football or a debate) or a crew, gang.

The definition of work is: activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something; sustained physical or mental effort to overcome obstacles and achieve an objective or result; the labour, task, or duty that is one’s accustomed means of livelihood; a specific task, duty, function, or assignment often being a part or phase of some larger activity.

Teamwork is the work done by people who work together as a team to do something; work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole.

The key characteristics of teams

So a team is a like-minded group of individuals who are focused on the same goal(s), who pull together, contributed equally, care equally, work on a shared project(s)or initiative(s).

Team members are committed, dedicated to the shared cause, believe in the greater good, put aside ego and id, cooperate and collaborate. Everyone has a role to play, everyone clearly understands that role and consistently, to the best of their ability, executes against that role.

That may be the ideal, but in reality this is rarely true.

Teamwork is impacted by confidence, experience, character, security, trust, motivation, satisfaction (on many different levels) and the social skills of each of the individuals on the team, making it a quagmire of different and differing emotional states, sources of motivation, personality and emotional intelligence (EQ).

I have been more often praised than criticized for my skills at teamwork, and while never happy with criticism, I can understand its origin.

When things falter, I will often be the one to “agitate”, in different ways, depending on the situation. I refuse to accept mediocre, never mind failure. This seems like rocking the boat, a disruption many find dealing with, difficult.

The trouble with teamwork is the “all but subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole” part.

It’s not entirely evident when hired into a department or assigned to a project that you are now a member of a team. That, fundamentally, you are expected to work together and collaborate to make something happen, achieve a goal.

  • Not everyone cares to the same degree
  • Not everyone has the same ambition, work ethic, perspective, or set of priorities
  • Not everyone has the same sense of responsibility or accountability
  • Not everyone sees the objective(s) similarly and agrees on the same path to reach it/them
  • Every individual has a distinctive personality

How often have you heard?

“It’s not my job.”
“I only get paid for 35 hours a week.”
“No one told me I had to do that.”
“I just can’t agree with this direction.”
“I don’t understand how they expect us to do that.”

Not everyone can see the big picture

Not everyone is able to see the objective(s), how to achieve it/them, or understand how what they do contributes to the whole. They are unable to perceive the consequences of mistakes, missed deadlines, poorly done work.

All too often, the expectation is that the leadership will come from within the team. This, despite the normally hierarchical setup, where titles, seniority, grades and classes determine pay, workspace and benefits which are distinctly related to status.

The trouble with teamwork is that everyone must have the same definition of team.

Teamwork entails relationships: the relationship of team members, the relationships between individuals on the team and the interaction of the team within the organization. And these relationships must have a high level of success!

Teamwork is anti-status, and within the normally hierarchical environment of a company or organization; this is a bit of a disconnect.

A team must have:

  • Clear and common goals
  • Shared values
  • A loyalty to the cause and to each other
  • The same sense of urgency
  • Group cohesiveness (built, not engineered)

Members of the team must have clarity as to the individual roles, responsilbities and expectations of contributions of the team as a whole, but importantly of the individual team members, along with:

  • A good understanding and acceptance of the strengths and weaknesses of individuals on the team
  • Strong and well respected leaders
  • Individuals must be willing to take up the slack, when necessary.

What every team needs is a good coach.

In team sports, touted as the best preparation for working adulthood, players are coached to deliver to their potential by respected authority figures who can explain that while the pitcher or the quarterback is an important position, the team cannot achieve success without a cooperative offensive and defensive effort to which every player on the court/field contributes.

  • The principals of team are reinforced, rewarded by praise and success; mistakes are used a learning opportunities.
  • Individuals are constantly evaluated, re-evaluated and their role adjusted according the to the progress and evolution of the team.
  • There is a system of regular team assessment and feedback called “practice”.
  • Wins are celebrated and team members acknowledged.

Perhaps going back to basics might help ensure superior team performance in business.

The trouble with teamwork is that there are two important elements to focus on: team and work.

It’s a challenge to focus on both, but without the synergy, things don’t happen optimally.

The trouble with teams is they are a lot of work!

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

Recently, one of my friends informed me the company they work for, Company “X” had won an important contract with a company overseas – I’ll call it Company “Y”.

While we often talked about work, it was more likely that we would discuss more directly relevant matters; so sharing this type of information was unusual.

I congratulated my friend, who looked at me and said, “Thanks. There was one thing they insisted on which stuck in my mind.”

“What was that?” I asked

“They specified that there should be no women on the team.”

“What does that mean?” I asked in total incomprehension.

“Company Y specified that they will not deal with women and do not want any women working on their account.

How is this possible?

I have deliberately withheld the details of the company and the Country of business, for reasons of confidentiality, but also, and more importantly, because I believe, here in our world, the year 2015, this information is really not relevant.

Respecting other cultures

There are constraints in doing business in other counties of the world.

I understand the need to be aware, educated, considerate, sensitive and most of all respectful to the customs and constraints of other cultures.

I have traveled to many countries, met, and developed relationships with people from very different backgrounds holding beliefs initially foreign to me. I understand that not everyone is the world is the same, that there are many shades of grey.

I know people who have worked in Dubai, where women not of that culture are confined to gated communities unless appropriately dressed and accompanied by a male escort.

It’s like being a houseguest. A good houseguest accepts and respects house rules, although they may be very different from one’s own.

Business Relationship, Business Obligations

However, this is a business RELATIONSHIP between two large (ostensibly) international companies.

Company “X” operates in North America, and is governed by the laws applicable in this jurisdiction.

I will only reveal that Company “Y” is an Asian corporation.

Fundamentally, the Company “X” has an obligation to Company “Y” to provide the product/service, which was contracted.

As a good and successful business, Company X should also strive to provide the best product, the best service and the best customer experience possible to their client. This is how relationships are built, reputations are made and continued success, enjoyed.

But Company “X “ also has a responsibility to be a good corporate citizen and an obligation to the society in which it operates and, importantly, to its employees, drawn from this community.

The obligation to the community is to model good corporate behavior. To respect and follow the best practices of management, human capital development and basic human rights.

It has an obligation to the development and growth of its employees, to provide them with opportunity to learn, gain experience and contribute, via achievements, to the overall success of the company– no matter who the employee is and irrespective of gender.

Moral, business and ethical issues

Obviously, the customer thought they could demand this concession.

This is what the client wants/is playing for, so what can Company “X” do?

I can understand that Company “X” felt pressured, and there was probably the unstated possibility of losing Company Y’s business if the terms were not accepted, but I believe that agreeing to the stipulation was wrong.

Not only morally wrong, because it is outright discrimination.

In the future, what’s to stop other potential business partners from demanding that redheads, tall people, lefties, employees of specific racial or cultural backgrounds or people of alternative sexual orientations be excluded from working on their business?

The precedent has been set, and that is a dangerous thing.

It is also the wrong decision for the business. It sends a demoralizing message through the organization that that some employees, in this case men, are more important than others.

Imagine being a member of the team who worked to secure this business – to do the research, perform the due diligence, run the numbers, determine the strategy, create the presentations – and discover that the team has secured the business, but because you’re a woman, you’re no longer on the team?

What does this convey about the organization, and would you want to work there?

Further, could this mean that some of the best qualified, most knowledgeable, experienced and talented employees would be prevented from contributing to the mutual success of the endeavour because they are women? My interpretation is, yes.

Is this, perhaps a question of ethics? I certainly question the ethics of a company who could compromise to this extent.

I know it’s not black and white and I would be naïve if I didn’t acknowledge that the situation is more complex and there is more at stake that mere ideal.

But this situation sucks!

I’m afraid to even wonder aloud how often similar situations arise.

The Dream Job versus Reality

A few months ago, I sat down with a group of women at a networking event to say hello and catch up.  There were five of us, one an entrepreneur in her 4th year of business; a student; a woman who had just started her career; and a woman who had just started a new job.

I had met the woman just starting her new position few months previously.  A friend had referred her to me and we had lunch to talk about her options, her plans, the market and her expectations.  She was looking to make a career change and wanted to see if her expectations and objectives were realistic.  She was trying to reconcile her need to work with finding her “dream job”.

The first question, as I sat down was about how my job was going.  I had recently accepted a last minute position as a maternity leave replacement after the original replacement had left for a full-time position.

I reported that I was really enjoying it.  The industry was close enough to my past employment roles to allow me to use my developed skills, but different enough to provide a challenge in learning new products, systems, processes and economic models.

The people at my new job were friendly and helpful, the culture was a good fit and I enthusiastically voiced my satisfaction.  As a Product Management position, it was a lower level than previous roles I’d held, but after 5 years of consulting, titles and hierarchy become less important.

The next question was, “would you consider staying on if asked?”   To which, I replied an enthusiastic yes.

“But what about your dream job?” was the next question.

Any Job Can Be Your Dream Job

I paused and smiled, “I’ve learned that any job can be your dream job.”

The entrepreneur smiled at me, in perfect understanding, while I explained.

Every job has its good and bad.

There are good things about every job.  Sometimes it’s the people, sometimes it’s the environment.  It could be the industry, the products or just the times (business cycle). Sometimes it’s the money and benefits.  It may be the scope or challenge; the learning experience.  Maybe it’s the location or the offices.

Hopefully it is also about your belief in the product or service and the contribution you make.

Manage your expectations.

The characteristics of your dream job are based on your expectations.  No matter how many questions you ask, how much checking you do, it will unfailing turn out that something does not correspond to your desire, understanding or needs.

Consider how complicated and dynamic an organization is.  There are multiple relationships, different “customers”, and a wealth of influences both internal, external as well as short-term, long-term and far-reaching.  Most jobs exist within something that is very akin to a living organism.

Organizations, also like organisms, undergo constant change and adaptation. The pressures exerted by the adjustments require personnel to change and adapt.

Nothing stays static.

Nothing remains the same.  Your dream job at this time will certainly change and may not remain your dream job forever.  New players enter, the environment changes, the organization changes.

Business that fail to change and adapt, lose ground.

You too will change, as you acquire knowledge and experience.  This will make you a different person.  Your current job will certainly change.  You may be assigned added tasks or different responsibilities.  You may have the opportunity to work for or with someone who will teach, mentor and challenge you.  Your role may change; either becoming more specialized or it may expand.

Your current job could well develop into your dream job.

What is your Motivation?

It helps to clearly understand what motivates you.  The element or elements that drive(s) you needs to be considered in priority to ensure you are happy and satisfied.  It may be title, money, recognition, influence or many other considerations, but it is important to recognize, acknowledge and understand this in order to increase the possibility that your current, or next, job becomes your dream job.

I worked for two years at a not-for-profit organization.  It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career, but it was not, and probably never could be my dream job.  While it had many positive aspects – I felt highly regarded, valued and appreciated.  And while the work was very rewarding, the infrastructure, processes and professionalism, which I deem important to allow me to accomplish tasks, were lacking.

What is your tolerance for dissonance?

At what point of dissatisfaction or unhappiness with your situation does your coping mechanism fail?  Let’s agree to define dissonance as a lack of agreement or consistency, say the disparity between the positive and negative elements of your position (as determined by you).  At what point does the proportion of “bad” to “good” tip over to where you can no longer tolerate the situation?

You dream job is impacted by how tolerant you are to the relation between what makes it ideal versus what detracts from its “dream” status.

It takes some people very little to become miserable in their jobs.  Some can tolerate much for a good salary and benefits.  Others can put up with a lot if they enjoy the work; feel they are making a difference; have strong work relations; or, feel valued and appreciated.

Every job has its good and bad.

Any position you hold will have positive aspects and negative elements.  There are tasks you enjoy and others that must be done, but are more of a chore.  There are colleagues who are a pleasure to deal with and others who may present more of a challenge.

When the good beings to outweigh the bad, you have two choices:  change jobs, or find your balance outside of work.

Work Life Balance

Most of us have no choice but to work.  And the environment for job search has changed dramatically in the last 10 years.  At the pace of life you can expect change to occur dramatically, so it is really important to develop tolerance and resilience.

When you’re choices are limited, and you need to stick it out, it helps if you can get satisfaction outside of work in your hobbies, volunteerism or family.

What I’ve learned about my “dream job”.

My dream job at 25 is very different from how I would define a dream job 10 years later, and ten years later than that.  It is certainly very different from my ideal job at this point in my career.

Every job teaches you something.

It may be a skill, it may be a method, it may be specific knowledge or, the most valuable learning of all, it may teach you about yourself.

It may happen that you don’t realize you’ve had a dream job until something changes, or until you’ve moved on.

As I don’t believe in having regrets, I believe my next job will be my dream job.  Again.

Use Your Words.

Use your words.

Language is a crucial means of communication. Most of us rely on speech as our primary means of interchange.

Words are the tools we use to communicate. How well we communicate depends on the quality of our tools and the precision with which we employ them.

Control comes through our ability to effectively name and convey our needs.

As small children, we are challenged to put words to our physical feelings. We don’t have the experience to tie what our bodies are experiencing to actual terms.

We are unable to distinguish between hunger and thirst or exhaustion and sleepiness and must be taught that bodily urges, such as having a full bladder, can be named, along with what the appropriate behaviour is when the physical sensation is correctly identified.

The deficiency in language and confusion over what to call what our bodies tell us is one of the contributors to the anger and frustration manifested during the “terrible twos.”

Using words well is a hallmark of being a good communicator.

Consider all the great speeches and the world’s great orators. Their words are memorable, evocative, clear, simple, pointed and cannot be misinterpreted.

Their sentences resonate. Listeners hear a common message; it is not possible to mistake the message, or the intent.

When someone tells you they are upset, how easy is it to offer them appropriate comfort or support?

If, on the other hand, they were to say they were disappointed, discouraged or even disenchanted, it would be easier to know how to respond. You would know what questions to ask to quickly find out the specifics of the situation.

The difference between a dissatisfied customer and one who is disgruntled is huge. And making a successful recipe is close to impossible if adding “lots” of a called for ingredient is part of the instructions.

Words should be chosen carefully and used precisely.

Many mistakes have been made, or blamed on poor instructions.

Consider the difference between the directions, “Stop him!” versus “Detain him!” The ubiquitous “Don’t do that!” versus some clear direction of what should, or should not, be done.

Friendships have been severed, families torn apart, organizations have foundered, wars have been ignited because of words.

Words have insulted, wounded, enraged, provoked or baited individuals and rent relationships.

Most of us, as teenagers have cried out “I hate you!” when we mean to convey we are confused, frustrated, scared by the process of coming to adulthood and /or chaffing with resentment at being viewed as a child.

Words are precious. “I’m proud of you.” “I love you”. “You are doing a good job.” You’re a good friend, a good person, a good parent,” are words to be kept and treasured because they validate and value us.

It’s a talent to use the right words, at the right time. It takes mindfulness, time to learn and practice, to consistently get it right.

And our own emotions get in the way.

Having the proper arsenal of words to accurately label our feelings contributes to our own wellbeing.

Call it self-awareness, self-actualization or a heightened state of self-knowledge, however, the better we can define our feelings and express them, the healthier we are.

I recently read an article which suggested that people who can articulate their feelings are much more well-adjusted and resilient that those who have difficulty doing so.

Like the child who gains a measure of control over his or her situation by naming the physical sensations experienced, so for the adult, the ability to most accurately name their feeling or emotion provides the tools to deal with them.

The analogy is a bit strong, however, similar to receiving a medical diagnosis when you’re able to precisely identify and put a name to the sentiments you’re feeling, the more you’re able to understand what might be causing the feeling and the better you are able to address it.

I have learned to respect intuition and “listen to my gut”. Often this starts as a general malaise, or discomfort, which is vague and unpleasant and colours all my experiences at that moment.

By isolating and accurately naming the feeling(s), or the root of the discomfort, be it doubt, concern, fear of failure, mistrust or distrust, an understanding results, which helps provide insight into the source of the feeling and how to deal with it.

Being able to distinguish impatience from frustration, or annoyance from irritation may provide the precision and the cues, to choose how to best determine the root cause and identify strategies to deal with it.

To be able to identify the feeling being experienced as irritation rather than anger may help in identifying the irritant or trigger and indicate a means of dealing with or neutralizing it.

Anger is a far broader, larger and much more vague and general condition, making it more challenging to pinpoint the origin, and thus determine the right strategy to use.

Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Words are precise tools, honed over centuries of use.

And like tools, words can be used as weapons.

Be conscious of the words you choose.

Don’t be lazy, indifferent or careless with such an important and meaningful resource.

Choose your words carefully. Consciously.

Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

Relationship. It’s Complicated.

Relationships are complicated.

No matter how casual or shallow, whether established by choice or forced by circumstance, relationships can be complicated.

What make relationships complicated are the gaps between expectations and reality, the differences in understanding and perspective, motivation and objectives, desires and personal circumstances.

Everyone has an agenda, be it known, acknowledged and admitted; vague, fuzzy, and unexpressed; and/or, concealed and subversive.

Relationships require dedicated effort. Like a living organism, relationships are a constantly evolving exchange of information, give and take, compromise, adjustment and changing needs.

Also, like a living organism, relationships need to be nurtured, sustained, maintained and provided with the fodder to ensure they strengthen and grow.
Otherwise they stagnate and die. And sometimes, the death of a relationship is not pretty or an easy, involving intense emotions including pain, sorrow, anger, disappointment and more.

Relationships are hard work.

There are two things integral to a healthy relationship and both require focus and mindfulness, a certain level of attention, effort and awareness.

Relationship requires an investment of effort. Fundamentally the creation, maintenance, and/or improvement of a relationship takes work. There needs be an understanding of, and interest in, the preferences, needs boundaries and background of the individual.

It means regular contact, demonstration of commitment, consideration, support, attention, kindness, succour- certain fulfillment of whatever the parties of the relationship require.

Relationship requires communication.

The other basic requisite for fulfilling and mutually satisfying relationship is communication, consisting of regular honest exchange, mindful speaking and actively listening.

The quality of a relationship is related to time, effort and caring.

The quality of a relationship is directly related to how much time and effort has been lavished on it. And how much one cares about the relationship and the individuals involved.

Husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, parents and children all have formally established bonds of kinship and family. But that does not automatically translate into good relationships.

Just as the biological fact of having produced a child does not automatically make you a competent parent, blood ties do not automatically mean strong or healthy relationships.

Family relationships are often some of the most difficult because the relationships, and family members tend to be taken for granted. Expectations are that the ties of kin are so strong they need no nurturing, care or effort.

Unfortunately, our loved ones may sometimes be the subjects of neglect, receiving the “short end of the stick” because we have put all our focus and effort on others and have nothing left to give when we get home. While this may be acceptable for short periods of time when our resources are stretched, it should not become the status quo.

And if these connections of family aren’t automatically strong and/or healthy, what does that mean for the more “casual” or superficial relationship?

All relationships require work.

In these days of instant gratification – information at the click of a mouse, action at the push of a button, access at the tap of a key, it’s important to be reminded that there are still things, essential things, in life that require effort and focus.

Relationships are one of these things.

And as with most achievements in life, the reward is directly related to the effort you make. In other words, you get out of things what you put into them – the quality of your relationship(s) correspond(s) to the investment made.

We don’t say people are good at relationships; however our level of esteem for individuals can be directly linked to how hard they’ve worked on your relationship, how much effort they have invested and how well they have communicated.

We do appreciate someone who understands or “gets” us; someone who is there for us. A wonderful compliment is to be known as someone who is on the same wavelength.

Two things to remember:

1. It’s important not to take relationships for granted.

They are like living things and need care and effort to remain healthy, grow and survive the inevitable ups and downs. A key part of the care and effort in relationships relates to communication.

2. Talk often; listen even more often.

Mean what you say – especially how much the relationship, and that person, mean to you.

It’s worth the effort.