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The Power of Teamwork: Building an Effective and Cohesive Team

The Competitive Importance of Teamwork

Building an effective, cohesive team is extremely hard. But it’s also simple.

What I mean is that teamwork doesn’t require great intellectual insights or masterful tactics. More than anything else, it comes down to courage and persistence.

And so, if you’re committed to making your team a healthy one, and you can get the rest of the team to share your commitment, you’re probably going to make it. And just in case you’re not sure this will be worth the time and effort—and risk—let me make a case for going forward.

I honestly believe that in this day and age of informational ubiquity and nanosecond change, teamwork remains the one sustainable competitive advantage that has been largely untapped. In the course of my career as a consultant to executives and their teams, I can say confidently that teamwork is almost always lacking within organizations that fail, and often present within those that succeed.

So why don’t we hear more about the competitive importance of teamwork from business scholars and journalists? And why do so many leaders focus most of their time on other topics like finance, strategy, technology, and marketing?

First, because teamwork is hard to measure. Why? Because it impacts the outcome of an organization in such comprehensive and invasive ways that it’s virtually impossible to isolate it as a single
variable. Many executives prefer solutions that are more easily measurable and verifiable, and so they look elsewhere for their competitive advantages.

But even if the impact of teamwork were more easily measurable, executives probably would still look elsewhere. Why? Because teamwork is extremely hard to achieve. It can’t be bought, and it can’t be attained by hiring an intellectual giant from the world’s best business school. It requires levels of courage and discipline—and emotional energy—that even the most driven executives don’t always possess.

As difficult as teamwork is to measure and achieve, its power cannot be denied. When people come together and set aside their individual needs for the good of the whole, they can accomplish what might have looked impossible on paper. They do this by eliminating the politics and confusion that plague most organizations. As a result, they get more done in less time and with less cost. I think that’s worth a lot of effort.

One more thing is worth mentioning. When it comes to helping people find fulfillment in their work, there is nothing more important than teamwork. It gives people a sense of connection and belonging, which ultimately makes them better parents, siblings, friends, and neighbors. And so building better teams at work can— Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team and usually does—have an impact that goes far beyond the walls of your office or cubicle.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s get started.

1: Are we really a team?

Sometimes a team improvement effort is doomed from the start because the group going through it isn’t really a team at all, at least not in the true sense of the word. You see, a team is a relatively small number of people (anywhere from three  to  twelve)  that shares common goals as well as the rewards and responsibilities for achieving them. Team members readily set aside their individual or personal needs for the greater good of the group.

If your “team” doesn’t meet these criteria, you might want to consider whether you have a smaller subset of the group that is a real team. Or maybe the group is simply a collection of people who report to the same manager, but with relatively little interdepend- ence and mutual accountability (that is, not a team).

And remember, it’s okay to decide that your group isn’t a team. In a world where teamwork is rarer than we might think, plenty of non-teams succeed. In fact, if your group is not meant to be a team, it’s far better to be clear about that than to waste time and energy pretending you’re something you’re not. Because that only creates false expectations, which leads to frustration and resentment.

2: Are we ready for heavy lifting?

Having said all that (in question #1), let me be very clear: the advantages of being a true team are enormous. But they can’t be achieved without a willingness to invest considerable time and emotional energy in the process. Unfortunately, many teams aren’t prepared for this, and try to take shortcuts and half measures. Not only does this prevent them from making progress, it can actually lead to a decrease in the team’s performance.

It’s important that you go into this  process  with  eyes  wide open, and with no illusions about what is required. That doesn’t mean becoming a team takes years, or that it will be unpleasant. In fact, most teams can make significant progress in weeks or months, and find the process itself to be one of the most reward- ing parts of their professional lives. If they do it right. Let’s talk about how to do just that.

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