October 2005
Issue Map
October 2005
Newsletter Article

Chapter 1 Excerpt: Teamwork Training by Sharon Boller

Introduction: Who Needs Teamwork?

What's in This Chapter?

  • A description of the actions involved in teamwork
  • An explanation of the power of teamwork
  • A discussion of factors that operate against teamwork
  • An explanation of how to use this book most effectively
  • A description of what's in this workbook and on the accompanying CD

You've purchased this book because you recognize the power of teamwork, and you want to develop people's abilities to foster teamwork and to demonstrate teamwork. When people use teamwork, they

  • listen to others, ideas in a nonjudgmental fashion and allow ideas to be expressed without "squashing" them prematurely
  • offer constructive feedback to others with the goal of improving processes and outcomes
  • listen to feedback and act on it when it can help a team or group improve
  • share ideas, allowing them to go from "my" idea to "our" idea
  • assist others when needed
  • share expertise
  • work together to accomplish a task more efficiently and effectively
  • trust each other.

And...when the above behaviors become routine within a group, a team,
or an entire organization, the results can be amazing.

Why Teamwork Is So Powerful

Teamwork enables individuals to do together what they cannot accomplish

by themselves. Examples of effective teamwork inspire us and help us see the value of teams and/or teamwork. Everyday and famous examples include the following:

  • Surgical teams. When is the last time a heart surgeon operated alone on a patient? And if the members of the surgical team do not work together, what is the prognosis for the patient? Every day, people's lives are saved or enhanced because of teamwork in operating rooms.
  • Firefighting teams. Ever see a single firefighter put out a house fire? What would happen if the members of the firefighting team won't talk to each other, or members don't trust their teammates to execute their responsibilities? The teamwork demonstrated by firefighters saves lives and property. This teamwork is so ingrained that the responders on the scene of a fire can execute teamwork automatically.
  • NASA's Apollo 13 mission. One person could not have saved Apollo 13. It took the efforts of many people working together under incredible stress, both on the ground and in space, to avoid a tragedy and bring the astronauts home safely.
  • Project teams. Groups of people bring a project to closure on time, within budget, and in alignment with required performance standards. Such teams may not have the glamour or high profile of the surgical or firefighting team, but they exemplify what great teamwork can achieve. If you've had the chance to be part of a high-functioning project team, you know how much enthusiasm, energy, and excitement such an experience can generate.

People who foster or demonstrate teamwork understand its benefits. They recognize that teamwork yields far better results than when people work in isolation or against each other. They also know that lack of teamwork can sabotage the greatest plans or the noblest task, even if several incredibly talented people are focused on the plan or the task. To put this into everyday language, no matter how talented a quarterback is, he doesn't win a football game by himself.
So, if teamwork yields such awesome results, why isn't everyone doing it?

Why Teamwork Doesn't Happen

When people in your organization fail to demonstrate teamwork, it may be because (1) they have been assigned to work on a team that isn't really a team, (2) they don't embrace the philosophy of teamwork, and/or (3) they need skill development in teamwork competency. A brief review of each reason may help you diagnose which ones are true for your organization.

Reason 1: The team isn't really a team, but is supposed to function as one. Organizations tend to label groups of people as teams even when they lack the criteria to truly exist as such. To be a team, a group must be focused on a common task or goal. No task means no team. Too often, employees are told they are going to be part of a "team," but they aren't united by a common purpose or a need to work together to achieve results. It's tough to practice teamwork in such a setting because teamwork requires this focus on a common purpose.

Reason 2: People don't understand or embrace the teamwork philosophy. Americans love great teams and they get inspired by them, but they value individuality and personal recognition. People in the American workplace and social culture want teams and teamwork, but they recognize and reward individual excellence. There's no "I" in team, but there is a lot of "I" in many cultural and workplace norms. Here are a few examples that promote individuality and minimize the power of teamwork:

  • Admiration for celebrities, status, and heroes. Even in" team" sports or movies featuring a large cast of characters, frequently the efforts of one individual take center stage. In sports and entertainment media, stories often focus on how a "star" made or ruined the movie or one player led the team to victory or defeat.
  • Ambition for individual recognition and awards. The accomplishments of individual performers or contributors consistently receive recognition, "even down to grade school and high school levels where awards go to the top achievers in various areas. In the workplace this phenomenon translates into compensation, recognition, and advancement programs based on individual achievement rather than team efforts. Individual performance still drives most incentive plans and recognition programs. When organizations begin rewarding employees for demonstrating teamwork, people will become more motivated to learn it and demonstrate it.
  • The proliferation of "reality" television shows. Reality shows play off of people's fascination with competition, winning, and individual rewards. The majority of these shows pit people against each other rather than encourage collaboration for the benefit of all. Manipulation is more valued than cooperation. Collaboration may happen, but only if it benefits the individual.

Reason 3: People simply don't know how to "do" teamwork. In large part because of Reason 2, many people have never learned how to practice teamwork or foster it in others. It's not taught in schools (perhaps with the exception of MBA programs). Many teamwork behaviors, listening, offering and accepting feedback, sharing ideas, sharing expertise, are not intuitive to people. Through a host of experiences, most people are taught a "me" focus. For teamwork to flourish in organizations, employees must learn to balance this "me" focus with a "we" focus (Manz et al., 1997, p. 22).

How This Workbook Can Help Improve Teamwork

The starting point for cultivating teamwork within a team or an organization is to distinguish between two competencies, fostering teamwork and demonstrating teamwork. This workbook addresses both competencies with the assumption that people who lead teams or groups take on responsibility for fostering teamwork. This workbook contains resources to help you address both competencies. Specifically, you will find resources and tools to

  • define each competency (chapter 2)
  • help your organization's employees assess competency in fostering or demonstrating teamwork (chapter 3)
  • help senior management gain buy-in to each competency on an organization-wide basis (chapter 4)
  • deliver workshops for people responsible for fostering teamwork, as well as for those who need to demonstrate teamwork (chapters 5 and 6)
  • help managers foster a more teamlike attitude and environment on the job (chapter 7)
  • create an implementation strategy for undertaking an effort to improve teamwork throughout the organization (chapter 11).
About the Author

Sharon Boller is president and chief product officer of Bottom-Line Performance, Inc. (BLP), a learning solutions firm she founded in 1995. Sharon has grown BLP from a single-woman sole proprietorship to a $3M+ company with 30 team members. Under Sharon’s direction, BLP created the Knowledge Guru™ learning game platform. Knowledge Guru is the recipient of numerous industry awards, including the coveted Brandon Hall Gold award for best innovation in gaming and technology (2014). BLP has also produced a wide array of other award-winning learning solutions. They earned Brandon Hall awards for best advance in sales training, best use of games and simulations for learning in 2014. They've earned numerous Horizon Awards as well. 

Sharon frequently speaks on game-based learning and learning design topics at the local and international level for eLearning Guild, ATD, CLO, Training Magazine, and other industry groups. She is also the author of numerous articles on game-based learning, learning science, and instructional design, as well as a book featuring team building simulations and games, Team Training. She also has an authoring credit for one of the chapter’s in Dr. Karl Kapp’s book, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Field Book.

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