Teamwork Makes the Dreamwork

John Maxwell’s famous quote about teamwork is well known in most business circles. What many often overlook is Maxwell’s warning that a vision can quickly become a nightmare if “a big dream” is carried out by a bad team.

Today’s market is dynamic and ever-changing, requiring businesses to always up their game while remaining agile and ready to adapt. Although not everyone agrees on how to stay ahead, there is a consensus that teamwork has never been more critical. 

The days of the individual superstar are gone. As the world becomes more interconnected, and technology continues to disrupt the status quo, there is an increasing reliance on others around you, or the "team," to keep up. Teams are developing the vast majority of innovations today at companies such as Google, Uber, Airbnb, and Apple. Put simply, if you want to create something of significance, it generally requires a team. But teams are not easy to assemble or manage. So how can you create a healthy and productive team? 

Below are a few values, traits, and behaviors that we believe every great team and team player should emulate. 

Values define the culture of every team and set the tone for every interaction. 

You must provide clarity around your company values and what types of behaviors are expected out of team members. No matter how talented, without clearly defined values, team members will have difficulty fostering alignment to tackle problems, surmount challenges and generate creative solutions. Without this firm foundation, it will be virtually impossible to attract the right talent, retain that talent, and establish a culture that will overcome adversity and win. 

Hire team players that are aligned with your core values, hungry to learn, eager to work hard, and demonstrate emotional intelligence and genuine humility.

Great team players are almost always humble, putting the team’s needs and goals before their own. A humble person strengthens team spirit by quickly pointing out the contributions of others; they have a “we” not “me” mentality when it comes to success. 

Humility is also at the core of emotional intelligence. Having an ability to “feel out” a room, see around corners, and know where others stand is vital to success. But don’t let this humility and social skills fool you into thinking they should lack ambition. A great team player is always trying to get better ⁠— in search of more ⁠— and therefore self-motivated. Without these traits, teamwork simply isn’t possible.

Trust is a must, and vulnerability strengthens the team to bring the best out of everyone

Above all else, trust is at the bedrock of any great team. But how can an organization promote a culture of trust, particularly during a period of rapid growth and while responsibilities continue to change?  

In Brené Brown's book "Dare to Lead," she identifies seven behaviors that team leaders must embody to foster trust. She cites that the most successful will:

  • respect boundaries, while doing what they say they will,

  • hold themselves accountable,

  • own up to mistakes,

  • be a reliable confidant,

  • do the right thing when nobody's looking,

  • avoid judgment,

  • and, finally, show generosity in their interpretation of others' words, actions, or intentions.

Leaders, which in our eyes can be anyone at any rank, must also have the courage to be vulnerable and willing to share their shortcomings, weaknesses, or mistakes. Putting yourself out there will naturally create feelings of uncertainty, but these courageous actions are contagious. This behavior will foster a safe environment, build trust, and make others less insecure about their flaws. This kind of open dialogue creates an environment that empowers people to leverage their strengths, serve others where they may be weak, while creating value for the team as a whole.

To avoid biases and promote creative problem solving, embracing both cognitive and cultural diversity is vital 

Diversity, rather than running counter to a shared vision, reinforces team work through leveraging the differing perspectives that can inform a more complete or well thought-out solution. Keeping your team balanced across different generations, experience levels, and ethnicities and genders prevent the kind of echo-chambers that tend to produce extreme biases. In finance, for instance, it may be about recognizing an overlooked risk; in retail, it could be about understanding the motivations that influence different consumer behaviors. 

Cognitive diversity, in addition to fostering empathy, also promotes creativity and problem-solving. Former President of Nissan Design Jerry Hirshberg, for instance, used to encourage innovation by pairing people with differing backgrounds, experiences, and expertise to work together in teams. He believed that the combination of creative, "big picture" thinkers and more analytical minds produce better results, often noting that obstacles are usually "the motivation for creativity".

Encourage spirited debate, but be quick to make decisions 

Theodore Roosevelt perhaps said it best when he described, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

In a team setting with so many different perspectives and opinions, finding consensus can be tricky. A sign of a great team is that everyone is not only on board with the decision made (even if it’s not their own) but each team member will work just as hard to see it through. 

Great teamwork provides a powerful competitive advantage. It remains rare because without recognizing the characteristics of a great team, organizations struggle to overcome the natural dysfunctions that make collaboration so difficult. But a diverse team, united around a common purpose and trust, aren't just more enjoyable to be a part of; they win.

-Drew Weatherford

Caroline Collins