Team Work: Does it exist outside of sports?

I was watching a lot of team sports recently e.g football and even cricket.  It made me realise that team work is such a natural part of those sports.  Every player plays with a common goal, knows their role in the team and executes it to the best of their abilities.  Then there are sports like golf or tennis where you only see the player as an individual contributor out on the course or court but you know that behind the scenes there is a group behind them.  The behind the scenes group works together to help the player become the best and even get all the limelight.  Perfect example of how a team works whether to promote one person or as a team.

I immediately asked myself, “Why does team work or collaboration not work like that in the workplace?”.   “Maybe it just doesn’t happen in a workplace where rivalry and competition means to tear people down vs. to motivate for better performance.”.  I have been fortunate enough to work in teams where there was great synergy and team spirit.  I have also worked in an environment where it’s all about “me”.  I believe that every one in the workplace wants to work in a great team where everyone is just working together and achieving great results as a team.  Why does it not happen all the time?  Why is it one of those “lucky” or “chance” moments?

Reflecting on what I had experienced, I have come to 2 simple conclusions.

1.  Common Goal.  A lot has been said about having a common goal.  But what is it really?  Is having 5 goals a “common” goal?  Is it just having 1 goal a common goal?  Too many goals even if its common will certainly confuse things as the question becomes which one do we prioritise and when do we prioritise which goal.  One goal might sound too simplistic but it is powerful.  As an example, I am sure that when a sports team is in a match, there is only one goal, that is to win the match.  It doesn’t matter who scores the goal so long as someone does.  In the same way, for a team to be successful, there needs to be a simple, clear goal that everyone is able to articulate at any time and it does not matter who is the “star” so long as the team wins.  In order for that to happen, I believe that the next critical element is trust.

2.  Trust.  Trust in the person in your team to do the job.  Without trust, there is no team.  It is just a group of individuals doing whatever they see fit.  How does trust come about?  Trust in the person’s abilities and skills hence each must have a certain ability or skills set that is valued by the team.  When there is trust in the person on your left and your right to perform in a certain way and consistently deliver results, the team synergy will just flow and gets better over time.  However, since no one is perfect and each with their unique strengths and weaknesses, recognising that and having the right expectations sets the stage for basic trust.  As they say Trust is earned and that’s certainly true in the workplace.  Therefore if a new team is formed, I believe that the first building blocks of trust is to be open and honest about what we can and cannot deliver.  Over promising and under delivering are never good traits to building trust.

I am optimistic that there can be great team work in the workplace.  I have simplified the issues, challenges and what we can do to build great teams with the above 2 elements.  I do believe that it’s a start.

What do you think are other elements that will help in team work?  What are your experiences and learnings from working with teams?  How can we build great team work?

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