How Do You Define Teamwork?

Teamwork.  There is a seemingly endless list of how to define it, thousands of books written about it, and the notion that we should all strive to obtain it.  Teamwork has been rattling around in my head lately, and I was trying to remember a defining moment for any team where I was a member.  Nothing was coming to mind until I met recently with a member of this team for breakfast.

This particular team had been through some rough times together, but also celebrated well during successes.  The defining moment that I remember was during a meeting where we had been instructed to reduce our budget.  It wasn’t just a little reduction, the reduction was large enough that it would cause everyone in the room to take a hit.  I had instructed each of them to bring a list of what was important that needed to remain, and a list of what could be reduced.

One by one, each member of this team shared their list.  The items on the lists were important things that would have a significant impact on each person’s part of the operation, their ability to provide the right level of service.  After all the lists were read, it became quiet.  Part of me expected the real battle to begin, and each person around that table would start lobbying about why their department should be retained, and someone else should take the cut.

It was at this very moment that I witnessed teamwork, and what I heard had and still has an impact on me.

“After listening to the group, their lists seem more important to the overall operation.  I think I can reduce a little more.”

“I can take the hit, let’s make sure that other department has what it needs this year.”

“I don’t know how I am going to explain this to my employees, but I am withdrawing my list of needs, the other lists just seem more pressing.”

One by one, every member of that team saw the overall organization and operation as more important than their particular department, silo, or fiefdom.  Each member of that team knew that the only “win” was ensuring that the organization “won” not whether or not it was a “win” for them individually.

How should we define teamwork?  Maybe the definition is simple.  Teamwork is when everyone that is working together can look beyond themselves, see the larger picture, and “take the hit” for others.

2 Comments on “How Do You Define Teamwork?

  1. These teams don’t happen until the relationships are created and nurtured via respect, trust, and loyalty. It’s all about the people!! Most of us want to belong to a team, but many organizations only pay lip service to their people. Leaders need to take the time to have an effect and an impact on their employees and they will be rewarded with a team.

    • I totally agree. Taking the time to develop people is a lot like life: not terribly exciting and takes a lot of work. When coaching leaders I often threaten them with making them wear a shirt with the words “COACH” on them to remind them that their primary role is to coach the team, not blame them, or wish for a different team. If you haven’t read “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable” I would highly recommend it…

      Thanks for the comments! Carl

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