Teamwork. It’s all about me.

October 2, 2012

School hockey team. Me aged 15 front row second from left.

Readers will know I am a great believer in individual responsibility (see https://sarahspoutsoff.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/responsible-adults/

It doesn’t mean I am not also a lover of teams.

However, I believe many people and organisations do not understand what a real team is. They call lots of things teams when in fact they are what I would call committees.  A committee is not a team. In my mind, there are fundamental differences between them.

Unlike committees who have an inanimate object (a ‘chair’ FFS!) at the helm who administrates and ensures fair play, teams have either a coach or a manager – an active role that develops the skills of the team and gets the most out of them as individuals and as a group.

The mindset of a committee member contrasts with that of the team player. Even the terminology of ‘member’ vs ‘player’ reflects the passivity of committees and the activity of teams. The committee member is there to oversee, perhaps to report in to other members but not really to deliver anything. The team member is all about action and delivery.

Committees are a group of people each with their own vested interest that they need to represent, defend and protect. Often at the expense of others. They may look to find common ground on which they can eventually agree, but it is usually a mealy-mouthed, risk-averse  compromise without vision or excitement. And it will take years to reach. Rarely are they keen to take on extra work for themselves or the department they represent –  they come to the meetings more to ensure that nothing happens behind their back that they need to know about or may threaten their part of the organisation. They are more likely  to maintain the status quo than drive any change. They do the majority of their ‘work’ when they are together – informing each other of influences and challenges they need to take account of.

Teams on the other hand are built for a specific task or tasks. To deliver a particular objective. Deliver being the operative word. They have one common purpose and work together to build something bigger than the sum of their parts. This is the crux of an effective team. Their output is significantly greater and more impactful than that which any one of them could have achieved alone.

But they are very much about the individuals Driven by individuals working together. Good teams  recognise, celebrate and maximise the individual differences – their strengths and weaknesses and play to them. Individuals take responsibility for their particular area but also there is shared responsibility for successful delivery of the whole project. A great team recognises no one can claim success if the whole project doesn’t deliver. And this drives positive collaboration and a desire to excel. It also means individuals are prepared to sacrifice their egos in recognition of the higher purpose – the joint task that the team are delivering. Whoever is best for a given job on the day gets given it. Just like sports teams – substitutions, changing tactics or positions may happen because this is what the team need to do to succeed.

My position was Left Back in the hockey teams I played for, but had times of being Right Back  or being a central defender or on the bench when the need arose. It is always better to play  a smaller role in a successful team  rather than a larger role in one that fails to deliver.

Good teams will need a variety of behaviours. I’m no expert on all these Myers Briggs/ colour analyses but I know everyone can’t be centre forward. You still need a goalie and a centre half. And the jobs those individuals do on the team all contribute to the end result. And together the team MAKE IT HAPPEN.

I like to think of myself as a team player. But I’m not a great one for committees.


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