This website covers knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

Teamwork Is an Individual Skill


I picked up Christopher M Avery and co-authors' Teamwork Is an Individual Skill: Getting Your Work Done When Sharing Responsibility based on a recommendation that I, sadly, did not record.  For anyone interested in collaboration and communication and intentional living and relationships this is an excellent resource - I recall that the person who recommended it had a similar feeling about the book. The book is ten years old, but it doesn't feel dated. These topics are perennially important.

The short summary: I am responsible for the success of any venture in which I choose to participate.

I love the paradoxical title - there are a lot of these paradoxical elements throughout the book.  Or maybe these are more examples of uncommon common sense.  To succeed in teams, I must bring the desire and motivation for the team to succeed.  It is not the team's responsibility to create that success, it is mine.* This has a number of implications, such as looking for a shared vision with the people on the team.  One of those paradoxes again: acknowledge my own self-interest in the success of this project, and then seek to understand how your self-interest will be satisfied too.  Ask "what's in this for you?"  - not just looking out for myself, but also looking out for how we can all achieve our personal goals while achieving the goal of the team. A lot of the discussion throughout the book was around how the individual skill of teamwork can be parlayed into success for the team: building upon integrity, trust, collaboration.  All these ideas revolve around intentionally acting and living in my world.

Avery has a chapter on Trust that resonated with me.  Trust is built by my extending myself first.  If I wait for you to take the first step, then it may never come.  Avery also acknowledges that if that first step doesn't produce the hoped-for result, that it is my responsibility to re-evaluate what I want from that situation.  I also liked the discussion of how to repair the situation after the inevitable broken trust - what do I need to do when I break an agreement I have made?  This was a great example of how to make amends with clear instruction on how to go about clarifying with myself first and then repairing the relationship.

There was also a lot of discussion of collaboration throughout the book. Of course there was - that's how teams succeed right?  Again, though, Avery emphasized my responsibility to make collaborations work.  Whether it is the trust element above or a discussion about how I approach relationships.  Am I seeking to "win at all costs," or am I looking out for you too?  I particularly liked his framing of the familiar competition vs. collaboration thinking.  To his mind, these things aren't opposites - in fact, he sees them in a reinforcing loop: competition creates the need for collaboration, which creates more competition.  The opposite of collaboration (win-win) is mutual harm (lose-lose).  Competition is win-lose and the opposite of that is lose-win: martyrdom. Avery discusses that what many people think of as competition is merely aggression: make the other guy lose, but I don't necessarily win.  The key to successful collaboration from the individual skill perspective is the idea of a shared goal, a shared way of getting there, and a shared understanding of how that goal meets everyone's interests/needs.

So, if teamwork is an individual skill, what does that say about teams themselves? Teams are there to Get Something Done.  And it is that Something around which the team should gather - not around friendships.  That said, the team cannot succeed without a shared sense of the collective task and what that collective task means for the team members.  How will their skills and interests be employed and grow as a result?

What about "bad teams?" Ah, but since teamwork is an individual skill, this means that when I say the team is "bad," I am saying that I am not exercising this skill very well.  "Bad" is a perception in this case - and I have the power to change that perception both through changing my mind and through changing my behaviors.

As always with my reading habits, I see how the book ties together other threads I have in mind.  One is that there seems to be an obvious connection to Stephen Covey and his Seven Habits thinking.  That book is clearly about the personal, but it also talks about leading the intentional life.  And Stephen Covey is deeply linked to the ideas of Dale Carnegie in my mind - and those ideas are buried throughout the discussion in this book.  I also saw a lot of connections to the ideas of Networlding - networking around a shared interest and bond, rather than around people.  And more recently, my friend, Ben Wechsler, has launched his You, The Inspired Thought Leader series of videos that feel spiritually connected to the thinking in this book.

The book is very easy to read - and I'd imagine it's easy to reference back to specific pages as well. The chapters are broken into 1-3 page sections where Avery discusses a topic and then closes with a personal and team challenge, and nearly all of the sections close with an example or story related to the topic of the section.  Avery has an active business promoting the concepts in this book,

Personally, I felt a bit of friction reading this book. I was in a little conflict in a personal relationship, and I could see how the individual behaviors discussed in the book were missing in my response to that conflict. As I stewed in my conflict, I had to laugh at myself and my reactions. It isn't about the other person at all. I have to remember that whenever I am upset or troubled, there is something inside me that is creating that reaction.

* Yes, team success is your responsbility too, but if I don't contribute, why would you?

Be careful how you define "waste"

Expressing gratitude