Yay! Team!

There’s no I in team.

But there’s damn sure a me.

In the US it’s time to talk about teams again! The NBA is heating up just as the NFL is about to peak and thoughts of spring training slowly bob on the horizon causing us to think that pennant is possible this year if only we sign the right players in the off-season.

Teamwork is one of those old reliable myths mangers like to pull out of our hats, tool chests, etc., to “motivate” and inspire others. Yet, like so many other quick-fixes we apply, our understanding of teamwork and its meanings – and limitations – is as thin as the veneer of cheap fibre-board furniture. It won’t stand the test of time.

First things first. Not every group is a team. If you don’t take the time to understand wpid-Photo-20140805151652.jpgwhether or not work is truly interdependent you can call workers with little on the line “teammates” all day to no effect. Work has to be interdependent – we need to need each other – to form the nucleus of a team.

Next, we really need to understand if people know what teams or teammates are before we hurl nouns around with the speed of sound. Most people won’t pick up on the meaning much less nuance if they don’t know the frame of reference. Public speakers and faded CEOs laud “teamwork” as they ply the lecture circuit, yet how many of them played team sports? How many of them ever wondered what percent of their followers or employees played team sports?

We talk about teams and teamwork and teaming as if it were as American as apple pie yet Americans are iconic individualists unwilling to listen to almost anyone other than the sound of their own voice marching to its own off-beat drummer. We celebrate our individualism just as we wonder why our teams are not more effective. The answer is profound and simple at once: no one has taught our people how to team.

Besides, when was the last time you actually had a piece of homemade apple pie, anyway?

Yet, despite the fact that many work place groups are not actually teams, and that many of us don’t know how to be a part of a team, ineffectual and unpenetrating leaders every day exhort us to Go! Team!  If you have ever wondered about the signs of ineptitude in leadership one of them for sure includes pointless exhortation without basis in reason or rhyme.

Like asking for teamwork from non-teams who can’t team.

You see team work is deceptively obvious yet hard, like democracy. Everyone “knows” what democracy is, but do they? Like faith, democracy has to be practiced to be valued. Like democracy, teamwork has lots of undercurrents and inputs not necessarily seen but felt none the less. Teamwork is easy to see and hard to do. You have to want it – much like faith. Or democracy.

In coming posts we’ll talk about team work and the roles we play in team, and what drives us. Because teams are important.

And if you understand them they can actually be effective too.

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