The month of July has been a particularly interesting one for me. Thanks to different opportunities, I got to see different teams working together, and even had the privilege to be a part of some teamwork effort too.
I’m an ambivert, but more of an introvert than extrovert, and although team work isn’t new to me, these few weeks brought me many new insights into the art of building great teams. I got to participate in big teams of more than 20 people, as well as small ones consisting of just me and another person.
However, there were some points in creating good team work that remained constant, regardless of size of the team or reason behind the need of teamwork. Here, I’m going to share with you the very things I felt and observed that not only make the good teams great, but also made their fruits of labour awesome.
1. Your relationship with your team mate(s), at the very least, should not be negative
Working in a team = working with people. Thus, building of relationship is a must
when working in a team. Remember that person who yelled “I cannot work with
him/her!”? What that person’s really saying is “I’m unwilling to build a
relationship with someone like him/her”.
Being unable to build a relationship with team members will result in huge
obstacles during the course of working together as help will be required from each
other throughout the process. Without good relationships, the team will wish to
only finish things as soon as possible without caring about the results of their
There are many things that can be done in and out of work to foster cohesion in
the team. For a start, focusing on the project together is a great stepping stone.
Catching up over a meal, watching movies together, or just hanging out are some
other examples. Building a relationship requires time and commitment. Some
relationships are definitely more challenging to build than others, but give it time,
don’t give up, keep pressing into their lives and the results will slowly blossom.
2. Working in a team requires you to be honest with each other
Working together requires you to be able to be brutally honest with your team mate, sometimes without holding back. Of course, it may lead to hurt feelings, but the truth will set your team mate free. Just imagine a great band having a severely deluded vocalist that shatters every piece of glass in a 500 meter radius around him the moment he starts “singing”, performing at your local pub on a Saturday night. All the money wasted on replacement fees and ear surgery could have been avoided if his team mates were a little more honest about his singing.
That said, dealing with feelings can be tricky, but have to be dealt with when working with teams. You are, after all working with people. These people need to understand that while you’re critically pointing their errors to them, it is not because you’re out to attack them, but rather to share with them where the mistakes may be in hopes that adjustments can be made in order to bring the results of your (and his/her) labour one level higher. And if they can understand where you’re coming from, they’ll see your comments as productive feedback instead of satanic insults.
3. Be very critical, but not judgemental
We’re all created imperfect, and as much as we wish our team mates to be Jesus, I hope you realize by now that they are not. That said, if you find a perfect team, don’t join it, because you’ll break it.
One big problem I’ve seen many times in different teams is how A will that feel B is inferior, and start gossiping about it to CDEFGHIJKLMNOP. Soon, the whole team knows about the inferiority of B, and start hating on him. B will then leave the team. A new weakness falls upon somebody else within the team. Guess who’s going to leave the team next?
The thing about working with people is how there’ll sometimes be things we don’t like about each other. These can be solved by talking to each other and dealing with them. Of course it takes two hands to clap, and both parties must be willing to compromise to an extent. If it’s a flaw that cannot be changed, perhaps trying to accept it is needed. Gossiping & judging the team however, is never the way to go.
4. Dare to be vulnerable in the team
If you’re a sports athlete, you’ll realize this is something you have to go through no matter which team sport you play in, especially if it’s your first time in the team. It is therefore very important for team members to note that taking care of the newcomer in the team is as important as taking care of a VIP. You are, after all trying to “sell” to him reasons on why he should join the team.
A newcomer, especially if he is a walk-in, is entering an environment totally new to him. His anxiety level would possibly be sky high, thinking about what’s in store for him. First impressions are therefore very important. When training with the team, his thoughts would be on how not to screw up in front of everyone. He would feel insecure, worried, and to certain extent, scared. However, if the newcomer is able to make new friends, the feelings of worries and anxiety will be greatly reduced. Newcomers are more likely to come back and stay in the team if he feels comfortable and supported in the environment of the team.
If you’re currently in a team, yet are not vulnerable because you don’t want to “lose face” or something like that, you’ll realize that you’ll lose out in performance at the expense of trying to look good. Because you’re afraid of making mistakes, you’ll not dare to try new things, or practice things you know you’re not good at. But when you open yourself up to the team, especially if the
team is good, you’ll find constructive feedback that’ll help you improve; great support, love and also encouragement that’ll help you climb higher.
5. Sticking to a common vision
Every team has a reason towards why they were formed: To complete a project, to train for a competition, learn a new sport, play a game, etc. Whatever it is, that reason usually comes with a vision (to win, to learn, or to achieve something). The saying goes that people follow visions, not leaders. Therefore, it is important to strike a clear direction of why you’re doing what you’re doing, so that the whole team can wholly follow the vision together, sticking through thick and thin in order to fulfill it.
I brought home something impactful during my coaching observation assignment in Wildcards, Singapore’s 5 time national champion in cheerleading. One of the team’s coaches, Lim Hann Bin, said to his team “I cover you, you cover me. That’s why we’re a team”. It’s simple, but very true. After all, who needs enemies when you’ve got team mates who don’t look out for you?