Teamwork Is A Four Letter Word

I am always interested in the thoughts of people as they first set foot on our facility.  What has brought them here?  What do they hope to take away from the day?  What exactly do they think is going to happen in the coming hours?  Predictably…invariably…inexorably…the answer is a single word.


They say it with confidence.  With authority.  With a bit of what looks like relief.  As if they are a contestant on Jeopardy and suddenly realize that all the questions on the board are right in their wheelhouse.  So they start hitting the buzzer like crazy.  They know this one.  They KNOW it.  This is gonna be good.

You can imagine their surprise when their home run answer is met with a sad, knowing look and a shake of the head as I tell them that “teamwork” is my least favorite word in the world.  Confidence is instantly replaced by uncertainty.  Relief by anxiety.  There must be some kind of mistake.  How can this be?

After all, they are exactly right.  Teamwork is the answer.

So I begin by telling them that very thing.  They are exactly right.  Teamwork is the answer.  It is an answer, however, that keeps us on a superficial level at the exact moment we should be looking for depth.

Imagine having a conversation with a friend or colleague that goes something like this:

You:  “Hey!  How are you?”

Them:  “Fine, thanks.”

You:  “What are you up to these days?”

Them:  “Nothing much.”

Sound like any conversations you have had recently?

What do you really know about the other person at the end of this exchange?

Are they fine as in, “My life has never been better…I just don’t like to brag.”?  Or is it more along the lines of, “I am holding it together…barely.” ?  Does nothing mean “nothing” or “nothing that would interest you” or “nothing that even interests me”?

The truth is that you don’t know.  There is no way to know.  Unless, of course, you ask.

The same is true of that heinous word, teamwork.  When someone says they want teamwork, what are they really saying?  Do they want the kind of teamwork found in the military, the kind found on the football field, the kind found in the quilting bee, or something else entirely?  Which aspects of teamwork matter to them?  Which ones are written in stone?  Which ones are negotiable?  Which ones don’t matter at all?

Now imagine that two people are asked about teamwork.  What are the chances that their answers will be the same?

There is no short cut.  The only way forward is to engage each other in meaningful dialogue.  We have to ask questions and then actively seek to understand the answers that are given.  We have to ask follow-up questions and then follow-ups to the follow-ups until we truly understand.  We also have to be willing to answer the questions that are asked of us, and answer them in a way that helps the asker to know us better.  We must be willing to engage in a process of discovery, not just for our own good, but for the good of everyone around us.  

Because, um…you know, it’s all about teamwork.

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