Winning through Collaboration

I remember a few years ago, when in desperation I said to a malfunctioning department: “You are such a small team of only 15 people. How is it possible that you can not manage to take hands and work together happily”. One of the men looked up and said: “So, how many people are in a marriage, and we all know how difficult married life can be.” He got me. He was right!

Team work, makes the dream work, so they say. But often that dream becomes a nightmare and people get hurt and disillusioned. In fact, a team is a complex reality of different people, with different gifts and strengths, needs, perspectives and personalities – in other words, there is a high probability of clashes and conflict.

However, we also know that when a team synchronises and harmonises, they can be like an orchestra producing the most beautiful music. This happens when everyone knows the game plan and the destination, when everyone is competent and knows the role he/she has to play, and when we all do our part in sync, helping our team members to succeed in their areas of strength – so that together we can successfully achieve a common goal. But how do we get there?

When we as consultants help teams to develop and to become optimally successful, we often go to very basic issues first. It is important that we all agree on the following:

  • What is the reason for our existence as a team? (Purpose, vision, alignment)
  • What do we believe and stand for? (Values)
  • How will we measure success and progress? (Scoreboard or dashboard)
  • Does everyone want to be on the team and do we all commit to do our part? (Engagement and commitment)
  • Is everyone willing to to help the others to achieve the common goal and purpose? (Collaboration)

Researchers have also found that trust and emotional safety is incredibly important. When we trust each other we feel safe to be ourselves. Then it is easier to admit our weaknesses and mistakes, share our opinions, differ from each other, and to keep each other accountable.  Trust has to be developed.  When it happens we let go of our “armour” and ego’s, lay down our hidden agendas, become vulnerable, and connect sincerely. That is when creativity is unleashed and innovation starts to happen.

Lastly, a great team is like the human body. It functions as a living system. Different parts and systems all interact and function interdependently. In a team it is important to make sure what our roles and expectations of each other are. I find assessments like the Belbin Team roles and LEMON leadership really very helpful. A team is not just a group of people with job titles, but an interactive system of individuals, each of whom has a role which is understood by other members. It might be helpfull to get to know your own role you usually play in teams, how you can complement others, and how you need others to complement you. (Check out the Belbin team role test.)

Humankind is designed for this. May we all be great team players. And givers, not takers. May we go out, network and partner with others, taking hands to impact our workplaces, our communities, our country and our world!