Read an Excerpt
Teamwork is an Individual SkillGetting Your Work Done When Sharing Responsibility
By Christopher M. Avery Meri Aaron Walker Erin O'Toole Murphy
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2001 Christopher M. Avery
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTeamwork As an Individual—Not Group-Skill
When I close my eyes and imagine a workplace in which all employees are totally responsible for their team experiences and results, I see several conditions that have made this possible:
* Teams have the power to select their own members.
* Everyone clearly understands team goals and feels personally responsible for attaining them.
* Expectations of performance and contributions of team members have been made explicit.
* Team members expect to give and receive regular feedback from each other and, thereby, hold each other to agreed upon standards.
* Rewards and recognition are based on team results.
To create and sustain this kind of workplace—not just in the imagination but in everyday experience—requires each of us to take personal responsibility for the ways we participate in teams. While this sounds simple enough, it is much easier to say than to do. Otherwise, I wouldn't have to close my eyes to imagine such a place. Despite their differences, I think most people actively desire to work in these kinds of teams. We all value clarity, reciprocity, and interdependence. The problem is not all of us know how to create and maintain the circumstances that support them.
For example, my company's executive team recently was defining our business strategy for the year with the help of an outside consultant. As we debated how best to prioritize approaches to growing our subscriber base, most people said our top priority should be pursuing new customer segments. I took the position that our first priority should be retaining current customers, then adding new customers on top of the existing base. Although this position was initially put down, I stuck with it. Little by little, other members of the team began to incorporate customer retention into their push for growth, and our final approach was richer, broader, and deeper because of my willingness to stand by a less than popular opinion.
By learning to apply the tools and principles explored in this book, each of us can increase our personal power and responsibility on workteams. The context we establish won't be conflict-free. It will be dynamic, creative, and collaborative. Instead of suppressing our disagreement with a prevailing opinion, we will contribute regularly, responsibly, and with respect for other points of view.
Susan Ingraham Ashley Vice President, Human Resources Houston Cellular Telephone Company
What Is "TeamWisdom?"
If you know your behavior will make a difference in the success of a team, you may already have TeamWisdom. If you don't, develop it!
Remember the last time you noticed something for the first time and then started seeing it pop up everywhere? Sometimes it happens with a make of car, a hairstyle, or a song on the radio. For me, it happened as a result of my observation of team skills in professional environments. A few years ago, I began noticing smart and otherwise highly skilled professionals demonstrating and espousing the following beliefs—which I see as myths—about teams:
* Myth #1: Since teamwork is a group experience, individuals can't be responsible for the quality of their team efforts.
* Myth #2: Getting in a good team is mostly a matter of luck.
* Myth #3: If you are in a poorly functioning team, and are not in charge, there is little you can do but grin and bear it.
Despite massive research and reporting to the contrary, these myths remain rampant among intelligent professionals. And they exact an enormous toll in lost productivity and low morale among individuals, teams, and whole organizations.
As I have come to see it, the truth is very different. Many people demonstrate another set of beliefs and skills about teamwork. And they are generally the most successful people in all environments. My associates and I have made it our business to identify, watch, and learn from these people. And we have adopted "TeamWisdom" as the name for the plexus of skills and behaviors these people demonstrate.
Contradicting the myths above, people with TeamWisdom:
* Understand and act on all of their personal abilities to affect their entire team's effectiveness.
* Know that being in a good team isn't random. Instead, it is a function of one's relationship behavior and what you and others do.
* Take personal responsibility for the quality of their relationships. They never wait for those "in charge" to notice and act on a situation that needs attention.
In a nutshell, TeamWisdom is a specific set of attitudes and behaviors that make "teamwork" an individual skill, not some elusive outcome of group dynamics available only by the luck of the draw. TeamWisdom is something that every one of us can grow for ourselves, no matter what position we play in a team.
Personal Challenge Consider your most recent team experiences. Playback your internal conversation about those teams and listen for your beliefs about your experiences. Based on the three criteria above, would you give yourself a high rating for TeamWisdom? What would have to change for your TeamWisdom rating to increase? Be specific. What can you do to cause this change to happen?
Discuss with your team how the quality of individuals' participation effects the quality of the team's results. In what specific ways can your team support the participation of all members and their development of TeamWisdom? Record your responses in a shared space and refer to them daily over the coming week.
Teamwork As an Individual Event Raise your standards for good team performance, and start being responsible for your own team experience.
Most people go from project to project doing little more than hoping this team will provide them with a good experience. What's the result? An overwhelming majority of professionals have learned to expect a mediocre team experience, not a great one.
You may know the routine: You join a new team hoping that this time team members will finally act like a team. When they don't, you lower your hopes, your standards, and maybe even your commitment. Then you worry about your individual performance appraisal and may resent that you are assigned to teams.
What's the alternative? Stop operating on hope and start operating on intention and knowledge. Raise your standards for, and commitment to, great team performance. How? Forget the popular phrase "There is no 'I' in team." There is too, and it's you! To make teamwork an individual event, start taking total responsibility for your own team experience. To do that:
* Recognize that you are not a passive recipient in teams, that your behavior shapes every team you serve, and that you affect the team at least as much as it affects you.
* Acknowledge that not attending to team performance is a choice and that you are choosing to put yourself at the mercy of chance.
* Accept that if you are in a situation of shared responsibility and/or shared reward, then the quality and productivity of the relationships are worthy of your focus.
* Learn what behaviors and processes lead to successful teams and exhibit them.
Ask yourself what it means to be "totally responsible" for your own team experience. How does taking total responsibility change your attitude and behavior as a team member?
Discuss with your team what kind of team experience you want to have together. What would a great team experience look like for each one of you?
Agree to Response-Ability
When you choose to respond intentionally to whatever happens in life, you have the key to personal power and growth.
Have you noticed that people who face what they don't like about their lives with denial, blame, or justification get to keep things that way? Such people assign the cause of their problems to others. By saying "It's not my fault," they box themselves in. Many conflicts at work are caused by two people, departments, or organizations seeing the other party as the cause of their misery with no way out. The reward for this choice of behavior is that they get to stay in their misery!
I prefer to team with people who believe that they create all of their life's results—good and bad, big and small. With such a belief, there is only one person who can change what isn't working—oneself. The difference is a simple switch of mindset: Agree to internalize the cause of your results ("I did this to me") rather than externalize ("They/It did this to me"). From that position, you need not stay in any undesirable condition.
When we adopt this switch, we become more willing and able to respond to life (and team) situations. Becoming consistently more willing and able to respond (response-ability) to whatever happens in your life and work is the key to personal power and growth. It's also the key to productive relationships. So, when I find myself in a non-productive or counter-productive relationship, rather than deny, blame, or justify, I am likely to ask myself, "How did I create this for myself? And now, how will I respond to change it?"
Examine your life and work while asking yourself if it's possible that every result you experience is of your own creation. Then immediately answer, "Yes," and determine how this is true.
Discuss with your teammates what happened when your team avoided taking responsibility for negative results by denying, laying blame, or justifying? How can you agree to take full responsibility for your results?
Is Your Silence Consent?
Treat every action and decision in a relationship as one you "consent to." Or decline the relationship.
At one time, I was presented an opportunity to accept a new business relationship. As I listened to my internal dialogue about the proposition, I noticed I kept coming back to my fundamental belief that teamwork is an individual (not a group) skill and responsibility. Only I am responsible for the quality of all my work relationships.
What does this have to do with my decision-making process? Or with yours, when you are asked to join a team? Well, if teamwork is an individual skill, then when we elect to become part of a team:
* We retain our personal power.
* We lend our consent to a group direction and purpose.
* We incur a responsibility to speak up when we disagree with the group's direction or purpose.
Said another way, people with true TeamWisdom act as if they are always building consensus, even if the team relationship is based on authority, majority, or some other form of governance. They empower, approve of, and cooperate with a wide variety of group decisions aimed at achieving an agreed direction and purpose. People with true TeamWisdom don't find it necessary to voice an opinion on every detail. They just focus on purpose, direction, and values and let the rest go. Or, they decline the relationship.
Contrary to the popular definition, real "team players" never "go along" with something about which they have strong negative feelings. They retain and exercise their personal power at all times. They remain conscious that authority relationships are just agreements—consents—between people. When true teammates disagree with teammates, partners, bosses, or elected representatives, they push back, knowing that the group's final direction will either represent their personal consent to that direction or represent the place where they withdraw from the group.
"Going along" without passion or commitment creates two phenomena:
* Entire groups going where no member wants to go.
* People hanging out together with low commitment, low energy, low performance, resentment, and low esteem.
In my personal situation, I eventually saw that I lacked sufficient passion for the work to participate patiently in the group's process. Since my predisposition was to change the group's direction, without serious passion to fuel my efforts, I was better off not becoming a member. And the group was better off, too.
Consider the truth in this statement: No decision or action that affects you can be made without your consent (even if registered by your silent tolerance or permission). If this confuses you, or you balk at the thought, please just stay open to the idea and consider how it might be possible. As you reflect, make note of how you feel about past teamwork and your desire to speak your mind.
Discuss with each other the ways in which consent shows up in your team. What new agreements would help support healthy behaviors regarding members' consent to team actions, decisions, and processes?
The Benefit of Showing You Can Be Provoked
Being provocable better supports responsible collaboration than "being nice."
Although "calling" others on broken agreements is critical to building trust with teammates, it can be exceedingly difficult to do. Why? Well, many of us have one or more emotional blocks to confronting others about irresponsible behavior. Let's look at what makes it seem easier to "hold the bag" than to confront others when they let us down.
We have all been in dozens of situations where coworkers' behavior appeared irresponsible, in direct violation of a promise, or damaging to productivity. It hurts. So, why in the world do we tolerate it? In my experience, there are two very good reasons why we tolerate it: We have a need to be nice, or we have an addiction to criticism.
Needing to be nice is addressed here. The next chapter addresses the addiction to criticism.
Needing to be nice—or needing to be seen as being nice—is evidence we need social approval more than we need inner congruence. Social approval is great to have. We all need and enjoy it. But, as health professionals will tell you, when social approval conflicts with personal experience, it actually can become destructive. It's called lying.
To overcome this block, we can reduce our willingness to tolerate irresponsible behavior and increase our "provocability"—that is, our ability to show what really happens inside when others' behavior hurts us. When we choose to show our true response to irresponsibility, we actually foster true collaboration with others. How? Because provocability signals integrity. And it's integrity that builds trust between coworkers.
Provocability is part of a collaborative communication strategy called "tit-for-tat." To play tit-for-tat, start interactions with cooperative behavior and, after that, match others' behavior. If they cooperate, then you cooperate. If they are uncooperative, then show provocability. Point out their uncooperative behavior and let them know you hold them responsible for the relationship: They can have it be cooperative or uncooperative. It's up to them. Then match their moves. When used proactively, tit-for-tat is a great strategy for teaching others how to cooperate with you.
Provocability is best learned by addressing small irritations first. They are easier to confront. This week, pay conscious attention to when a coworker's behavior bugs you slightly. (Hint: When you are "bugged," you are provoked—that is, the other person's behavior is in some way unproductive or uncooperative in relation to you.) Show an appropriate level of provocability by identifying their behavior to them and letting them know what behavior you would prefer.
Remember, if you have been tolerating a particular behavior for some time, a relationship pattern has been set and your demonstration of provocability can be seen as "over the top." Start small and easy, then build.
Excerpted from Teamwork is an Individual Skill by Christopher M. Avery Meri Aaron Walker Erin O'Toole Murphy Copyright © 2001 by Christopher M. Avery . Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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