By: Brenda Robinson
Choose it or lose it! Teamwork is here to stay. In an ideal world companies would put in teams only those employees who are receptive to the idea. Welcome to the real world. If your bosses/managers/directors are on the teamwork bandwagon and you are cool to the concept, think again! You may want to warm up to the philosophies of teamwork or for the sake of your career find a company with a workplace hierarchy that suits you better. Look quick – there may not be many left.
What prevents people from working effectively as team members? Some sociologists say it began at home and in school. In most homes today, most children have a room of their own. There may even be a sign on the door that says “Radioactive Material Inside” or “Keep Out” or “Do Not Enter” or even “Raging Beast At Large.” All the messages indicate territory, which is individualized, independent and isolated! Where do children go when they experience difficulties with communications and/or interpersonal relations in the home? They go to their room, of course. In their own rooms, they are only required to communicate with themselves. When one communicates with one self, one is always right.
Consider this element as well. Each child has in his/her own room, all the material possessions required today. They have all their own clothes, their own ghetto blaster, their own bike, their own TV and VCR, their own skateboard, their own phone and individual furniture and decorating. Then, they go to school, where they have their own locker, their own desk, all of their own books and supplies and an individualized learning plan. What happens when these young people with all of this conditioning join the workplace? One of the first things we tell them is “we work as a team here.” Are they prepared for the concept of teamwork? Are they able to break the conditioning of their upbringing to become effective team players?
Some people would interject at this point and say, “What about sports – isn’t that teamwork?” Yes, they’re right. We call them team sports. However, even in the sports arena there is beginning to be some question about the individual commitment to team play. Many athletes today are much more interested in their individual goals, accomplishments and strengths than the team’s achievements. With increasing emphasis on moneyed careers in professional sports, parents and coaches are pushing individual athletes to achieve sometimes at risk to the team or other players on the team.
It is the nature of many baby boomer parents to have high expectations of the children and to desire for their children only the best or the most for him/herself. What happens to the team concept?
One of the greatest challenges of today’s world of work is to pay more than “lip service” to the concept of teamwork. We’ve actually become too specialized in many of our workplaces. We have organizational charts, which put us in boxes. We have job descriptions, which tell us what to do and what not to do. We have trade lines, which separate us. We have our own offices, our own PC’s, our own file systems, and our own supplies. Some of us have become so territorial we even have our names put on our staplers and or our pens or our scissors.
Why do we want to mark our territory in such a manner? Some people tell me that they put a name on a stapler to keep other people from taking it. I have to wonder at that. If somebody takes your stapler to staple something that needs stapling – is that a bad thing? It seems to me we may have lost sight of working together for results. Maybe we are becoming too independent, too individualized and too isolated. Perhaps it is time to get back to the bee. In the past, many people believed in the power of the “bee.” When people had a big job to do and they couldn’t manage to get it done by themselves, they held a bee. You may remember hearing about house building bees, barn-building bees, harvesting bees, quilting bees, cooking bees and many other variety of bees. They worked! People came together to share their knowledge, experience and energy and the results were amazing.
I remember a bee on our farm when I was a small child. Our barn burnt down in October. We saved the herd, but lost the whole barn and the hay that was in it. I remember being afraid – my parents were worried. - they talked late into the night about how to cope with the loss. The next weekend a wonderful thing happened. All of the neighbours we knew and even some we didn’t know showed up in our yard and built us a new barn. I don’t think my dad stood at the end of the lane collecting resumes` and handing out job descriptions. I don’t remember anyone coming in with his/her name on a hammer. I believe they brought a hammer with them and if they went home with a better one, that was a bonus. I don’t remember the electrician or the carpenter saying – “I’m specialized – I’ll be over there under the tree until you get to my part.” Everyone worked hard to do whatever they could to get a barn built quickly and with great care and concern. There was on-going communication, collaboration and co-operation. People understood the importance of working together for results.
No part of the work was individualized, independent, or isolated. It truly was “synergy” in action. Two or more people working together to get better and more comprehensive results then one person working alone.
The barn was built over two weekends. The results were wonderful. The barn is still in use today – 40 years later. Why is this “bee” syndrome so successful? It is the true description of “teamwork.” It brings people together to share their knowledge, experience and energy in a positive, constructive manner. The results are excellent! Besides, the people have fun, they learn from each other and they can all take pride in the results of their work. We are a social society. We want to be with other people and have others work with us.
Teamwork satisfies the top three elements of Marlow’s Hierarchy of needs, which explains what motivates people to work. It meets our needs for belonging, it gives us status in our eyes and in the eyes of others, and it feeds our egos by giving us a sense of accomplishment and a share in the results of our efforts. We take responsibility for ourselves, our efforts, our results and our relationship with others. We are truly connected when we work as part of a team.
What does it take for us to be effective team players in today’s workplace? We must isolate ourselves less, be less individualized, and depend on each other more. We must replace the three “I’s” (independent, individual, and isolated) with the three”C’s” (communicate, collaborate, and co-operate.)