Thomas Edison, when asked why he had a team of twenty-one assistants “If I could solve all the problems myself, I would.” Another rather amusing fellow I know said “There is no “I” in TEAM, but there is an “I” in WIN!” Whatever your philosophy, working in a team is challenging, especially when separated by distance and time zones. Team work requires taking into account the views of others with whom you may not agree, and working with people who may seem irritating, stubborn, or just plain sociopathic at times. And there is always some level of conflict, which most people don’t enjoy (although some people argue for sport!), so the road of “journey shared” can be a bit rocky at times.
Here are some survival tips based on my 20 years of working in teams:
AVOID TEAM WORK!
- Well, only if you don’t NEED a team, of course! If you can accomplish the goals without investing your time and energy into building a team, avoid working in a team. Teams should only be used to accomplish what cannot be accomplished alone. If you are playing a game that only a team can win, you’d better have a team!
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.”: African Proverb
CHOOSE TEAMMATES CAREFULLY
- OK, we don’t always have a choice of who’s on our team. But, your individual success will be tied to the success of the team, so when you do have a choice, be selective in choosing teammates. Personality clashes and lack of shared values are a recipe for lots of angst and very little progress. I’ve quit plenty of teams, and even jobs, to escape torturous teammates. Life is just too short!
ESTABLISH TEAM “WORKING-TOGETHER” AGREEMENTS
- Some people think you can simply rely on common sense as a guideline of how to behave in a team. Not true! As I’ve muttered many times, “Common sense is not common practice!” You must explicitly establish expectations and norms, including roles, how long it will take to respond to emails and phone calls, and what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior. I recently had to explain to someone that attributing my business success to my good looks was not acceptable. (He’s a friend, and didn’t mean any harm by his comments, and neither did I as I smacked him upside the head!)
DON’T CONF– USE A GROUP WITH A TEAM!
- Merely having more than 1 person working together does not automatically make a team. Among other things, groups of people can be mobs, or apathetic, disconnected collections of humans. Teams have shared goals and a commitment to those goals that is stronger than their individual motives. Teams care about their mutual success. Teams of people trust each other, and work together for the greater good, even when individuals have an axe to grind with each other.
TREAD CAREFULLY! RELATIONSHIPS LAST LONGER THAN THE PROJECTS, JOB, . . . AND SOME COMPANIES
- The relationships you build with people on your team will likely be with you long after the project ends, long after you all move on to different jobs, and sometimes even beyond the end of the company (at least this is true in Silicon Valley, USA!). Treat each other with dignity and respect. Follow through on your action items. Return their phone calls promptly. Answer emails in a friendly and timely way. It is a very small world, and you may need to rely on these relationships in the future for your continued success. And your reputation will follow you from one team to the next. Treat your team members as valued colleagues who will be with you for a lifetime. Even if you don’t work directly with these same people, your reputation will be spread by what they say about you.
TEAM – Together Everyone Achieves More, – Kimberly Wiefling, Author, Scrappy Project Management