Observations On Teamwork
There are many hundreds of books and schools of thought about how to work in a team and be a positive addition. The comments herein are just my own thoughts, which I do not claim are in any way authoritative – just a personal opinion from somebody who has worked in many teams. The comments below do not relate to any group or individual in any way and are just my generic ideas. I hope people who have recently joined new teams find it useful.
Toeing The Line
Unless the definition of “team” being used is: “One person holds a view and everybody else does as they are told” then automatically agreeing with everything the rest of the team say does not represent being a useful part of the team. If the team is such that it is considering solutions, problems or policy – failing to be a “critical friend” is, in fact, the opposite of being a useful part of the team. Inanely nodding through every proposal regardless of content is useless, adding nothing whatsoever to the team beyond some vague capacity as a cheerleader. (Not that I have anything against cheerleaders, in a sports environment.)
Of course, criticisms can be harmful if they aren’t handled politely and respectfully. Therefore, its important to present such things reasonably, sticking to logical arguments and presenting them in the proper way. If you feel very strongly that your team is on the wrong track then metaphors and allegories are your friend. Humour is also your friend. They can be used without giving direct offense to individuals, no matter how misguided or poor you may think their actions.
Finally, it is important to remember that even in a situation of group responsibility – you are not bound to agree with the team in areas where the team has not yet taken a decision. Those used to trying to bully their way to the result they favor may suggest that your criticisms – no matter how logical or sensible – should not be made. They are wrong. It is absolutely vital that ideas are aired, challenged and debated. Failure to do so leads to bad decisions, weak policy and stagnant teams.
Analyse, consider, Speak up! Stay polite.
You will occasionally encounter backstabbers. There are lots of reasons why these people exist. Sometimes they feel threatened by you. Sometimes they just can’t bear the idea that anybody might not agree with them. Sometimes they just want to get their way, but have struggled to counter the logic in your arguments. In almost all cases they will be too cowardly to say anything to your face and will be nice as pie when they meet you, but will constantly try and run you down to everybody else behind your back. Although this might seem counter-productive within the team and although it can be irritating, you should not rise to it. It is, in fact, an accidental compliment you are being paid. Your duty, as part of a productive team, is to do continue to do your best to help the team realise its aims. And if possible, to help that individual realise their aims too – where that is not counterproductive to the team. The old adage of “two wrongs don’t make a right” is true here, the team is bigger than the petty comments of this rather sad individual.
Understand The Teams Makeup
A team that you are assigned to in a work environment, with a clearly defined Leader and structure, is quite different to a team of volunteers in a Community Group. And both are quite different to a Council, where each Councillor is elected by the constituents of their own area and has their own mandate in their own right. Understanding what your role is, and how it works alongside the roles of all the other team members will help avoid you over-stepping your mark.
Know The Rules
Every team has some kind of ethos or constitution behind it. Sometimes that’s as simple as “common courtesy” and other times there are hundreds of pages of guidance. Whatever the case, know the rules. Know them well. I cannot recommend this highly enough. It will serve you well.
Never Stop Being Creative
There is no such thing as a “settled idea.” There is no such thing as “perfect.” Always keep looking, examining and rethinking the Team’s makeup, its purpose, its decisions and its future. Most particularly its policies and ideas. The day you stop trying to challenge, improve and evolve is the day you should think about joining a different group. If you have reached the point where all you are doing is “going through the motions” it is time to move on. If you have reached the point where you don’t even think about the team’s proposals anymore, but simple raise your hand and then ask when the coffee is being served, it is time to move on. If you have reached the point where you are infuriated when somebody challenges your idea, or are unable to respond their challenges, or both, it really is time to buck up, or move on. Never think you have nothing useful to add. You do. Everybody has unique experiences and skills – some of the greatest solutions come from left field, the last place from which you might expect their arrival.
A team is at its best when it is a dynamic and varied group of individuals, questioning everything, debating everything, in a friendly and supportive way. Empowered, where appropriate, by a Chairman who understands their role is to facilitate and pace discussion, not control it. Empowered, where appropriate, by a Leader who values the expertise, knowledge, passion and input of the whole team, rather than just forcing their own will, or the will of another. A strong team is not a battle of wills. It is not one will. It is co-operation and creativity and work from the whole group.