Today I unexpectedly shared a thought with a fellow colleague. As it turned out, it wasn’t just insights for her but it was as much a epiphany for me as well. What started as me simply trying to reassure a friend at work ended up bringing new meaning to the term ‘teamwork’ for me.
While many dictionaries and references will define teamwork as working together collaboratively towards a common goal, today I realized that it’s much more than that. The term is perhaps multiple times more complex than many of us truly understand. It all started with a simple question of how to keep the team going and showing stakeholders what the team is made of in the event that I’m gone.
I didn’t really think through my answer well, but out of quick thinking and possibly a quick tongue, I basically explained that you keep going on as a team, looking out for each other’s back. Then I shared a short experience of mine since my kindergarten years when a teacher was teaching me teamwork. The lesson was so powerful it got permanently stuck in my psyche. Try breaking a pencil in half…easy isn’t it. Now take a bunch of pencil, say 5 and try breaking it in half at once. Not that easy; in fact impossible. To demonstrate how things can keep going in the event a team member isn’t around, I explained that I am just one of the pencil in the bunch of 5. If you take one out, there’s still 4 and it continues to be unbreakable.
This works if the pencils are all the same size. If the pencil you take out is 10 times thicker than the others and the rest is only a millimeter in size, then of course, they will break, because it’s a fragile team.
From my own analogy, I myself learned this insight: teamwork isn’t built on just working together for a common goal. It’s about sacrifice, it’s about humility, it’s about sharing all the know-how and industry expertise you have with your team. And it’s the responsibility of everyone in the team to make sure the pencils are of equal sizes. In a business setting, what this translates to is perhaps that a true teamwork environment can only be realized when all members of the team are treated as equals and there is an open and transparent flow of information between everyone.
Now why I say sacrifice and humility is needed? Because to create an authentic teamwork environment, you have to keep in mind that you are essentially only a single part of a bigger system and your role, besides doing your job the best you can, is to also ensure that the system continues to function should a single part go missing; even if that part is you.
For that to happen, for the entire lifetime you are part of a team, it becomes your duty to share everything you know, all techniques, all knowledge and all key information. Doing this, you may initially think that it strips you of all power to leverage your standing and leaves you vulnerable. However, in reality it’s completely the other way round. Work flows much better and it prompts confidence and open communication within the team; fostering authentic and genuine relationships. This in turn creates the perfect team dynamics to solve complex problems and meet challenges face on. Additionally, should any one person in the team go missing, the rest are able to continue seamlessly….as a team.