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Thoughts on Teamwork

Teamwork is an interesting topic because every organization handles it differently. Collaboration, synchronization, planning, strategy, execution, ideation, creativity, and results all involve and stem from the need for good teamwork. Bad teamwork will burn capital, frustrate teams, and ultimately lead organizations away from their purpose. 

I was recently listening to a talk by former navy seal, Chad Wilson, who said that teammates need to have 3 core attributes. First, they need to be skilled. Each member of the team must be able to carry their weight in their area of their expertise. Without skilled collaborators jobs cannot be done to meet a high standard. Second, team members need to listen to each other. We each bring diverse elements to the table that will contribute to our goals and each member plays a key role in accomplishing the mission. Lastly, team members must be selfless. When a team gets together, they need to commit to stick together until the mission is accomplished. Each individual on a team will have their own responsibilities outside of the team, but it is the teams job to support them in that so that they can, in turn, support the team. 

Back in college, there was a formational experience that shaped my understanding of teamwork and how it can be developed. 

Today, we live in a fitness focused community, many of whom have been involved in sports or competition. I experienced similar things in a different environment. 

I went to design school and one of the things most people don’t understand about design school is that it is highly competitive. Each student is driven to have the best ideas that lead to the final outcome of a project so that they could have the shining example of their work for their portfolio. The portfolio is the same for a designer as a resume is for a normal job. Some students would lose weeks of sleep over making every little detail perfect. 

As we got into group projects, it was clear that teamwork was going to be a challenging experience. Everybody wanted to be the best and each member had a certain level of ego that told them that their ideas and expertise were better than the rest of the team. To add to the struggle, each member of the team perceived their teammates as having the same role as them when, in fact, we were each uniquely skilled and capable individuals. Suffice it to say, teams that took this internally competitive approach to design failed our final presentations left and right. 

I became a bit obsessed with challenging this developing habit within our class and decided at one point to make a change within one of my groups. Each member of my team had a different angle of design that they were skilled and passionate in. Some students liked hand drawing, some liked building presentation decks, others were interested in 3D modeling or physical prototyping. 

AHA! There’s the key detail. We were all able to focus not just on being a designer, but focusing on the kind of designers that we enjoyed to be. I personally, had less interest in doing 3D modeling at the time, so I could leave that role of the project to team members that were more skilled in that area. 

As we continued to work as a group, my team made a commitment to each other to each take a specific role and function within the team. Each member would be responsible for a chunk of the work in their area of expertise and the credit for the end result would be a shared benefit of the entire team. No one individual felt the need to get all of the praise and, in fact, each team member was excited to celebrate the win together. 

At the end of the day, the teams in design school that were able to drop their egos and selfish motivations were able to accomplish more and earn more towards their individual goals as a result of selflessly prioritizing the needs of the group. 

How can this attitude change the way that we interact with our friends, colleagues, family members, etc.? 

Is it possible that by working together, we can create an experience for everybody involved to know what it’s like to live productive, cared for, happy, and fulfilling lives? 

What do we need to change today to move in that direction? 

As always, please feel free to reach out with any questions or ideas to expand on this. 

Forge Forward, 


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