The Underlying Spirit of “Teamwork”

It’s no revelation that teamwork is critical to the success of any organization. But what exactly is teamwork? Is it when people share a common goal? An underlying purpose? Is it when they work together to complete a task? Or contribute, together or separately, to a common project?
Yes, a shared sense of purpose and a big-picture goal are important. And everyone needs to know how what they do, great or small, meaningfully contributes. Yet effective teamwork requires something more. It requires an underlying spirit of teamwork. A commitment to the idea that the greater good takes priority over what’s best for me. That at times I may have to sacrifice my interests, or my department’s interests, to best serve the collective interest.
Consider the annual tug-of-war for organizational resources. Ambitious department heads petition for resources so their departments can achieve greater results. The head of product category “A” rightly believes that with sufficient resources she can grow category revenues from $4M to $5M. Yet, all else being equal, if applying those same resources to product category “B” would likely grow revenues from $25M to $28M, where would you allocate the resources?
Of course, it’s important not to punish individuals for being good team members and supporting the greater good. If, for example, the first manager is burdened with an unrealistic goal given the resources provided her, and if that means she’s unlikely to qualify for her bonus, then it’s understandable she would begrudge not getting more resources. On the other hand, it her goals and bonus are calibrated to the resources provided, then she won’t feel she’s being set up to fail.
True teamwork requires selflessness. Putting we before me. Focusing on us not I. And leaders need to positively reinforce individuals when they act selflessly and put the team first. When team members see that everyone is willing to act selflessly, then the spirit of teamwork takes root.
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