When Teamwork Works, The Team Works

Ever been at a job interview where you get asked if you were a team player?  It’s a pretty typical question.  Now, how are you supposed to answer that?  Unless you are trying out for a solo round-the-world yachting record, you’re most likely expected to respond to the affirmative (although I would say even “soloists” of any kind would say it takes a team of people to get them to where they are).

In my experience I have seen many people claim they are team players but really they are the “free-riders” who hide behind others to do the hard work whilst they all claim the glory at the end of the day.  As usual, I sought out the Oxford Dictionary for a definition of Teamwork:

“the combined action of a group, especially when effective and efficient”.*

Weekends in winter in the last couple of years mean Aussie Rules Football for me.  When my team, the Sydney Swans, get a home game, it usually means I’ll be there cheering them on from the Members Stands.  And now with my nephew playing Junior AFL, I try to watch him play when I can (meaning, when his game is not on at an ungodly hour on a Sunday morning!).  This weekend has been a great example of a 50-50 footy weekend.

My Swans lost to the 2009 Premiership winners, the Geelong Cats, in a match that started out reasonably well-contested (there was only a one goal difference at the end of the first quarter) but then became one-way traffic for the rest of the evening.  The Swans were outclassed at every turn.  We had our opportunities but just never managed to convert those kicks into goals.  At one point, I tweeted out this question on Twitter: “Why is it that we have the same number of players on the ground as they do but it seems like there are more Cats wherever the ball is than Swans?”

So there is no doubt the Cats were a class above the Swans in skill, confidence and experience.  But more importantly, their teamwork was brilliant.  They knew where their fellow players were at all times so they were able to pass and kick to their marks.  In contrast, the Swans managed to turn over the ball so many times I just wanted to shut my eyes and pretend it didn’t happen.  Whist missing key players on our side contributed to the loss, there is no denying the lack of familiarity with some of the newer players also contributed to the less-than-impressive teamwork in evidence.  There were occasions when a Swans player would kick the ball off to no-one in particular when pressured, or even worse, when a Swans player is marked by 2 or 3 opposition players.

After the disappointment of Saturday night of watching the professionals play, I watched my nephew’s U9s for the second week in a row.  Last week they were soundly beaten by a much better team.  This week, they were more evenly-matched against their opposition skill-wise, but they won by a wide margin because they were able to spot their teammates in a tight contest and even when their lack in skill meant their kicks didn’t always find their marks, the kids were able to chase the ball and followed their coach’s instructions to “man up” (one-on-one) against their opposition and defend their positions.  The combined actions of each individual on the team resulted in my nephew’s team being able to defend against the pressure from the opposition and attack more effectively.

This applies equally to work life.  Each individual must do their part to contribute to the win.  When working on a project, each participant has a particular role to play and each has to be working toward the same objective.  Too often, I see projects that fail or take too long or cost too much because the contributors to the project have their own agendas or work in their own silos (these are very common workplace jargon you hear way too often and mean very little). Whilst they may not be deliberately sabotaging the project, their lack of teamwork results in effectively the same outcomes. Without a common understanding and objectives, each person will create their own priorities and none of them will be for the same thing.

As much as leadership manuals or team building sessions will teach people to follow the leader, the final outcome will always be dependant on the combined actions of the people in the team.  Each individual must understand his/her role in the team and more importantly what the expected outcome is and how, by executing their roles properly, they can reach that goal.  It is only when this happens that you can form an effective strategy to succeed.



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