2007: Issue 4
Within the upcoming week, David and I will have the bittersweet moment of watching our final high school athletic event as a parent of one of the student athletes and Shawn will be playing in his last competitive high school basketball game. Some good games, some not so good. Some where the teamwork was outstanding, and some where that was not the case and the end results reflected such. Regardless, I am hoping he takes with him the myriad of lessons he has gained from his athletic experiences to apply to his unfolding life as I do the same from my spectator experiences.
Teamwork. A common word in today’s business vernacular: “their teamwork stunk”; “it’s all about teamwork”; “the teamwork was great and that’s what made the difference”. Perhaps you have made similar statements. We bat the word around and reference it frequently under the assumption we all have the same understanding of what it is and what constitutes excellent teamwork. I will contend that is a false assumption, and is one of the core reasons most teams fail to optimize their performance.
In mulling this concept over in my mind, I decided to turn to the tried and true Webster’s Dictionary and was surprisingly impressed with the depth and breadth of their definition for teamwork:
Let’s begin with “each doing a part”. Whether on the basketball court or in the operating room or at the office, each member of the team has a role, and the success of the team is dependent on how well each member fulfills his role. I am continually amazed at how many times people tell me they are not sure what their role is. With further questioning they can usually describe aspects of their role, but they have this clear vagueness (a bit of an oxymoron) that has them acting with a degree of uncertainty and questioning their value to the team.
“..but all subordinating personal prominence” is the next key and very powerful phrase of Webster’s definition. It is the team’s performance and result that matters more so than the performance of the individual. Does one person or one play win or lose the game? No, yet often that is what we think, read, hear or say. Honestly, this portion of the definition hit home for I am often guilty of congratulating Shawn on his performance at the expense of focusing on the team’s performance and his contribution to its success. Or I praise my client on her accomplishment without mentioning her team’s performance, or the contributions of her team members. Extending praise and recognition to individuals is important, but when teamwork is involved, all are better served if we tie it to the team’s performance.
Lastly, Webster says teamwork involves individual performance that contributes to the “efficiency of the whole.” What every team member does matters. When teamwork is present, team members are building on the actions of each other contributing to the team’s end. Stephen Covey captures this in his 6th habit which he labels simply as synergy: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. “The relationship which the parts have to each other is a part in and of itself. It is not only a part, but the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying, and the most exciting part.” It is teamwork at its finest.
Founded in 2003 and based in Roanoke, Virginia, Extra Ordinary Living works with individuals, organizations and teams to identify possibilities, create opportunities, remove obstacles and through deliberate action, optimize results.
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