Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
If you grew up playing organized team sports at school, the lessons you learn that help in the professional world are almost self-evident. It, being consciously expressed or subconsciencly lived out, doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that being a good teammate and being a good coworker have a lot in common. So observing their similarities can be helpful.
In college, I was a Communications Studies major and took plenty of classes about professional and business communication, including Organizational Com, Small Group Com, Interpersonal Com. In fact, a large portion of my undergraduate classes were focused on how to work well with the people that show up to the office with me each day.
However, when I was recently asked to lead a mini lesson at our winter retreat titled: How to Work as a Team, I didn’t find myself referring to college textbooks or old notes. Instead I found myself comparing my Dunbar Soccer days to my daily interactions at Awesome Inc - looking at the key takeaways and seeing what lessons could be extracted.
The first key takeaway is to adopt this mindset: “I don’t need to do everything; I need to do MY part really well”. The second takeaway is similar: “I work WITH my coworkers and also FOR my coworkers”. This doesn’t mean you do their work for them; it means the work you put forward is done in a way and to a standard that guarantees the success of those working with you. These takeaways provide us with overarching themes as we dive deeper into more specific lessons regarding teamwork in the workplace.
Lesson 1: “We don’t have to agree, we have to align” - Tom Brady
In sports you are trying to win… or be the best. In the professional world you are looking for what is best. It can be best practices, best methods, or the best solution to a problem. When working in a group, agreeing with everybody about everything almost never happens… and that’s okay; it means you have options. As long as everyone sitting at the table with you has the same vision in mind and is genuinely looking for the best solution for everyone, a lot of those disagreements will get worked out in practice anyway. It’s rare that you find “what’s best” on your first try.
Keeping in mind that “what’s best” is something you usually find, here is a pro-tip: Don’t look for problems without providing solutions. Critiques in a vacuum don’t help whittle away at a problem as much as they restrict necessary action or impede overall creativity while brainstorming. Again, what needs to be changed or smoothed out will become obvious in practice. A messy plan with potential is always better than no plan at all.
Aligning with the common vision is what will allow you to handle any disagreements that come your way and allow you to be adaptable in your team’s search for “what’s best”.
Lesson 2: Don’t take yourself too seriously… but take your work very seriously
Like I said, disagreements are common in the search for “what’s best”. If the teammates aren’t familiar with each other or the vision isn’t clearly defined it can be a natural inclination to take any sort of disagreement personally. After all… you put the idea forward. Besides, you’re not stupid, you’re good at what you do, and you generally think things through before you speak. That said, being too personally attached to your idea can hinder creativity and openness to ideas. You are not the ideas you put forward and your coworkers probably have some good thoughts too. Let your ideas go to war so that you don’t have to do so with your teammates.
If the only reason you’re attached to an idea is because it’s your idea… that’s a red flag. Having the humility to admit someone else’s idea may be better than yours is key to any collaborative process. Being right may be good for your pride in the short-term but will likely affect the quality of the finished product. Sacrificing the need to be right in the short-term for the team’s common vision will not only raise the quality of the finished product, but make you someone that people will want to work with in the long-term. The trade-off is definitely worth it.
Lesson 3: Manage Your expectations
The expression, “expectations are everything” is commonplace today and usually implies that the other person should lower theirs. But when you are trying to find “what’s best”, lowering your expectations is not an option. Learning how to manage your expectations is what needs to happen. Setting expectations and adjusting them accordingly is not easy; It requires you to be fair and introspective.
When managing your expectations, keep in mind that they should always be reciprocal. If you hold your coworkers to a high standard (which is necessary if you want “what’s best”), you have to be willing to hold yourself to an equally high standard. The reverse is also true. If a problem arises due to neglect or poor performance: be extremely honest with yourself to make sure you didn’t contribute to it in any way and make sure you extend grace to the person in error that is equal to the grace you would like to receive if you had made the same error.
Knowing how to properly manage your expectations is a cheat code to knowing how to manage your work relationships. Doing this not only makes the task at hand easier; it makes your work more enjoyable.
Keeping these 3 lessons in mind as you interact with the people you work with will certainly aid in your professional success.