Working with others is no easy task.
Sometimes the magic flows (insert team cliches here) but there are (many) times when you’re working in teams, and the teamwork is just not there.
In this episode, Vera and Mer unpack the complexity of teamwork, what we need to be aware of, and the essential ingredients for a high-functioning team.
Mercedes: Hello hello, welcome to another episode of The Everything Else, I’m Mer
Vera: I’m Vera.. and today we’re talking about a long-awaited topic… Teamwork
Mercedes: That’s right, teamwork makes the dream work
Vera: It’s gonna be full of cliches today, I can feel it.
Mercedes: It is, and I’m not ashamed to admit it — there’s a reason why they’re cliches.. coz they’re universal truths that we’ve managed to suck meaning out of.
Vera: You have a point there! alright, so today we are talking about people, doing things together, it can be working together, in short: people.
Mercedes: That’s right, listeners are warned… this episode contains high doses of humanness.
Vera: Today we are going to refer to those moments when as Pichon Riviere mentioned a group of people — it can be 2 or more humans
Mercedes: Humans, we need humans for this — or do we? can AI do teamwork? I suspect they can, or will, we’ll leave that for another discussion. go ahead, 2 or more humans.
Vera: Ok! so two or more people who spend some time and share space to attend a task, whatever it is they want or need to do, to address a common goal.
Mercedes: That’s your definition of teamwork, right? I’m going to play devil’s advocate here, I think that’s not enough. I’ve been in situations with all the defined characteristics, where teamwork doesn’t happen, we’re working in teams, but the teamwork doesn’t happen… I got you there, didn’t I?
Vera: Haha, no, I’ve been there too. But hang onnnnn.. we’re going to get to that part in a bit. sit tight. Let’s get back to the more basic aspects. Like, can we have teamwork in a virtual world?.
Mercedes: I thought about that when you said space…Depending on the day and the team I’m working with, I oscillate from of course it can to suppressing a potential tantrum in meetings because I desperately want to jump through the screen in meetings to touch people, and move things around. I suppose it’s a question of having the right people with the right tools.
Vera: Well… We are going through a historical moment… I think it can… It can happen.. but, even if it’s virtual .but the team needs to “meet” to affect one another, coordinate roles,
Mercedes: I can’t do teamwork without some type of synchronous work. I physically need to see people live even if it’s through a screen. You?
Vera: I’d go a bit further… I would say I actually need to see the humanness in the other to do the work… Putting the camera on is great, but if the other person is typing frantically, or you feel they are not paying attention it doesn’t do the trick, you know?… I need to connect on some level, and, though it’s rare, I know it can even happen without the camera on.
Mercedes: Alright, I have some burning questions on this topic. But first a very big disclaimer. We’re talking about teams, but we’re not only talking about work. So please listen to this episode thinking about all potential teams, like a life partner, your siblings, a sports team, and of course, your work buddies. Back to the burning questions… Are we all team players? Are we all cut out to work well in teams?
Vera: Mmmm I’d say Potentially yes. We are all social beings and we all need others… we are with others…However, big however here…Our society has promoted a lot of behaviors that do not go in this line of collaboration. Of seeing others as someone who can potentially compliment me. This is what is referred to as the scarcity mindset, it’s a very straightforward understanding of Darwin’s theory, of the survival of the fittest. When things are challenging, we even call them competitive as we are all fighting for our own survival.
Mercedes: In the business world, the terminology has been historically violent when talking about existing with others -dog eat dog, cut-throat, the law of the jungle, it does feel a bit defensive.
Vera: And this is not just at work. We do this in all relationships. Like we get hurt, and then it becomes harder to trust others. Relationships (of all kinds) become very transactional when we do this.
Mercedes: humans.. particularly westerners, we are very used to this idea.
Vera: But this is a worldview. It hasn’t always been like this. Communities used to be the only important thing. As a reaction to that, we’ve put stress on the importance of the individual. And so with this, we have lost that sense of power groups have. Like we’ve gone from one extreme to the other. And actually, if I may say it, I know for many it can seem quite radical, but we need to face the truth that, although we have achieved much, the consequences have been very high too.. and our planet is showing us that we need to reconsider it asap.
Mercedes: And there are other options
Vera: Definitely so! When we take perspective, we can see options. Sure there are. And I think many people are looking for their version of this.
So, since we were talking about nature… Nature does not work like that, and visions that are more attuned to an abundance model than the one the natural world has, imply a whole different outlook. Professionals of all fields who teach, mentor, and help others, people who offer and share openly what they know, and what they create.. we can see amazing things coming out of collaboration and teamwork in the world of art and science.
Mercedes: There are even companies that are run understanding their role in a bigger picture. Now.. we’ve established that potentially we’re all wired to work in groups, but.. let’s face it, there are some people who work better in teams than others, it’s a skill that we need to work on and that we can improve… if I may… I’d like to call Vera the shrink. why is it that some people work well in groups and others don’t — I have a feeling the word Ego might come up.
Vera: Mmm.. not so sure it’s ego. Ego is a word that is overused, and many times we change the meaning. We all need our egos, it’s what negotiates between what is in your mind and what isn’t… I think the word self-esteem needs to come up…
Mercedes: Go on
Vera: A healthy self-esteem would be one that is not distorted by your own thoughts… People oftentimes have distorted visions of themselves, they either think too much of themselves, or too little of themselves.. (and many times this happens to the same person). So, it’s not rare that it’s difficult to be realistic -sharing a realistic view- of the role you can play in the team. When you know yourself, you appreciate what you bring to the table and you’ve come to terms with your own limitations, you have a deep understanding of your difficulties, and you can see what others do and what they add to the equation in a non-threatening way.
Mercedes: because you understand that your limitations don’t make you weak. they make you human. This may be one of the biggest challenges in life
Vera: Challenging indeed but totally worth it. When you accept your own humanness, you also get to see what others bring as ways to enrich your own stuff.. compliment your ideas, you can learn from them, you can even lean on them and ask them when you need help. It’s that level of humbleness that makes you a good team player. Know thyself team edition.
Mercedes: We could summarize all the seasons with know thyself, right? So, how can people explore this, apart from therapy?
Vera: Mmm.. like all life skills.. we learn them living, so it starts shaping when you are interacting with your siblings, sharing with your cousins and friends from early childhood onwards… Playing sports, at school, All these things exposes us to opportunities where you learn about this.. so if you did sports in a very competitive environment, it exposes you to certain worldviews.. certain experiences. If you see your high school classmates as winners and losers if you’ve attended a school where people were frequently bullied…
Mercedes: All these early experiences of how we deal with others are going to shape our performance and views regarding teams.
Now.. we’ve spoken a bit about the individual, and the work you have to do as a human to improve your performance in a team — let’s talk a little more about the actual team. Is it always possible to make teamwork work? Sometimes it feels forced.. and sometimes it flows so easily.
Vera: We’ve discussed this, and actually talked about our own relationship. And sometimes the connection runs deep and it feels like magic.
Mercedes: Well, running the risk of being yelled get a room, this podcast and how we started working together has been so easy — not perfect of course, but it has always flowed as we’ve always understood what each one brings to the table, and how we benefit from each other, and there has been such an openness to adapt to our individual ways of working. It’s a rare thing, I’ve only been in a couple of team situations where this has happened…
Vera: It’s not the most common thing, what usually happens is that you have to work a lot on making it work –
Mercedes: And sometimes no matter what you do it doesn’t happen.
Vera: Sometimes it doesn’t happen. And maybe we should normalize giving up on a team when it doesn’t flow, and you’ve tried everything, it might be time to rethink the roles, or even changing the people..Sometimes the magic doesn’t happen.
Like our friend Susan David says: There’s a time to grit and a time to quit. And this does not mean, you try once, twice, and if it wasn’t magical forget about it. I totally see the value in perseverance.. but I cannot help feeling that sometimes we insist on certain relationships without seriously asking why… because what is seen as perseverance from a perspective many times looks like stubbornness.
Mercedes: ok so, Make the grit purposeful, not just to avoid the sunken cost.
Vera: So.. what does this mean in practice
Mercedes: Alright, I love that prompt; it’s like, let’s get to the nitty gritty part of actually functioning in teams. Bruce Tuckman talks about the stages of teams and he has a model that simplifies the phases of a team- it’s nice and simple to remember and anyone who has worked as a team will recognize them — and even in the best of teams, these stages are inevitable for a team to grow, and face challenges. He mentions FORM, STORM NORM PERFORM. Nice and marketingy huh? so, of course, Tuckman goes into each one in detail and explains, and we’re not going to do that, but I’d like to briefly mention the stages because I think a major mistake in teams is sometimes jumping to the performance part.. and that’s where everything goes pear-shaped. So… first, you FORM the team, who are you, select, what each person brings to the table — and Tuckman didn’t speak about this but.. this is when diversity comes in — in a very broad sense. We’re talking about different people and worldviews, different skill sets but also roles — some who lead, some who follow, some who think, others who execute.
Vera: Ha! the classical case of too many chiefs, not enough Indians. The opposite can happen too when nobody leads, and everyone is awaiting instructions. That’s also a challenge, and for teams to function, we need to balance it out, depending of course on the task or goals ahead. Knowing what you need is the key here. Hiring, you know, is not just about finding.
It’s about knowing what it is you’re looking for. And for that you need to know your team deeply to understand its needs, not just what they’ll do but also how they interact, their strengths and weaknesses to see if the new person brings one of those to the table.
Mercedes: Next stage was STORM. This comes after the initial honeymoon, if there is one… where you’re blinded by the love or excitement of having found the fit for your team… we’re talking about the period of clashing, figuring out how to work together, interacting with other people’s chaos, and worldviews and weaknesses understanding other norms, and then ahhhhhh the magic NORM when you figure out how you’re going to make this work
Vera: Yeah, you’ve sorted out differences, you’ve figured out everybody’s role, what people bring, what tools work best, and then, finally you’re ready to perform. Sometimes these stages take nothing — but sometimes this takes longer.. and sometimes, as we said before, it just won’t happen.
Mercedes: we’ve repeated this a lot, is there something you want to share?
Vera: Ha no you?
Mercedes: nope, love all my teams 🙂
Vera: Let’s get to the hacks
Mercedes: Now.. before you go forward or pull the plug on your team — we have to take into account that in any successful team, for the magic to happen, some ingredients have to be present. There are some elements without which teamwork is just not possible. researching for this we found many lists and pyramids and charts for perfect teams, and we felt there were some elements missing… so we made our own list of ingredients … We’re not just going to just hand out the tips, don’t worry, we’re going to discuss these elements in depth because well, it’s The Everything Else.
Vera: That’s right, if you just want a list then google it, right? So, let’s visualize this as a pyramid, we’re going to add layers, but if the bottom layers aren’t solid… it’s all going to fall sooner or later, the foundations are what we will build the rest on.
Mercedes: Here goes The Everything Else’s Teamwork Pyramid model (WHat ? yes. I gave it a name)
Vera: Wow, it has a name, and layers, Each of these layers is super rich, and focusing on them is totally worth it. It is a constant work in progress in the pursuit of this sweet spot… they are the basis for any team that wants to be memorable.
- Number one, the one upon which we build everything else. Acceptance of otherness.
Vera: This is not accepting anything from others.. this is accepting that others are different and embracing that notion. This is the key to accepting what others bring to the table, how they can compliment me, and how we can make each other flourish and shine.
Mercedes: Not how they can be more like me… This is when a team works well when together we are greater than the sum of all parts. there’s another cliche for you.
There’s a great scene in Bohemian Rhapsody, the movie when Freddy allegedly tells the band after their first break up, and trying to convince them to get back together, that the experience with another band was awful, because he told them what to do, and they did exactly that. This is acceptance at its core, Accepting others means that we are going to accept the way others do things.
Vera: I love that depiction, because it portrays that concept of enriching others, even if you know more about the topic, others can add to your concept, in idea or in execution, they can ask the right questions, or prompt new ideas or insight.
Mercedes: Or interpret what you’re saying — I can catch the intention or the general idea of what you’re trying to say, and I put all that through my own filter — adding to your idea, to create a new one — a hybrid of our ideas
And that is what sometimes makes an idea viable. Because without that filter it wouldn’t be — and you know, making a team member do something YOUR way, is a path to no success.
Vera: I agree… And I have to say.. it takes courage and vulnerability to understand that your view is not the only valid one, and we have to get past our own biases and prejudices, and there has to be a degree of admiration in others, knowing that you can learn or benefit from others…
2. Second layer of the pyramid. Trust — Trust that everyone is going to do their part, that nobody is hiding information, or has other motives or objectives, or cannot be depended on.. Trust that others have the capacity to do their jobs –
Vera: We don’t all have to be good at everything, but all parts have to contribute, or else the chain breaks at the weakest link. If this trust is not present, then we can’t move on as a team.
And here comes a strong conviction in collaboration. In that, all parts will aim at the greater good. Not focusing only on their own stuff.. not having power struggles, rather than that, trusting each other and that each of them is doing their best.
Mercedes: And Trust that if we’re all aligned, and everyone is doing their part to their best intention, then if mistakes are made, we’ve got each other’s backs. If fear is part of the equation, then there is no teamwork possible because everyone is out for themselves, this scarcity mindset you talked about before, kicks in — so there has to be trust that somebody will catch you if you fall. basic degrees of psychological safety — that you won’t be reprimanded if you make mistakes, are humiliated or will be forced to do things you don’t agree with.
Vera: Can I just add Some people have a distrusting outlook on life and have to work extra on this: lack of trust is a defense mechanism — we could say it’s paranoid. And as the word says it.. a defense mechanism to defend ourselves from things that have hurt us or potentially could. So, if you are distrusting by nature, be aware of this and your thinking patterns, and if you’re not, but someone in your team is — accept it and don’t take it personally.
Layer 3 Healthy communication. The more we understand what is happening, the more we’ll be able to regulate what happens and communicate more effectively and clearly what happens.
Mercedes: This is always a work in progress, The important thing here is not to focus on mastering it — but to make sure you keep the elements in mind to see where you have to put some more work in.
Communication is complex, and we many times take it for granted.. which means we have to be explicit and make very explicit agreements, about what we need, how we can help each other, how we need to do things, about where you’re at, about what’s going on for you..
Vera: As teams grow bigger and bigger, the map of relationships becomes more complex, and it takes more time to adapt as a whole. So, having these clear and EXPLICIT agreements that we have all helped build, and we have all had the real chance to express our voice is important.
Mercedes: Every team has its own particular agreed contract, and all parties need to commit to these agreements. And if you don’t commit, you are breaking the deal. and this will affect trust, it’s a major roadblock. Now.. this doesn’t mean that it’s all a walk in the park. Good healthy communication is also about pushback, not just agreeing to anything.
Vera: That’s why I mentioned a real chance to chip in, good conflict, respectfully, watching out for tones that are adequate for each situation, the power dynamics, being aware of other people, how they feel,
and putting in the time and strategizing on how best to get your point across… You can check out our episode on communication for more details and help on this.
Alright. Let’s move on to the next level in the pyramid, we’re getting close to the tip
Vera: Number 4. A clear and common goal everyone can get behind– Essential right, if we don’t have a road map, it’s difficult to understand what the plan is, and what the objective is, what are we aiming for. if we’re not aligned here… well… it’s complicated…
Mercedes: Here we have to look at the Simon Sinek side of it — and be explicit about our why- not just where we’re going, like hit this objective, sell this amount, get this NPS, win this award, improve our family routine for our kids, whatever our goal is ( and we can investigate how to set smart goals right) if we want everyone to get behind it… we have to understand why we’re doing it, in the most basic sense –
Vera: And then we’ll have a commitment towards that goal. This is extremely important, also to connect on an emotional level to what it is that we are doing and not get caught up in the little differences
Mercedes: Pat Lencioni- you know him? he wrote a best seller called the 5 dysfunctions of teams — he says if people don’t weigh on — they can’t buy in. If you want people to get behind your goal, everyone has to have a say. A quick disclaimer though — having a voice doesn’t mean having veto power. and this is about knowing your role, In a team, everyone has a voice, or an opportunity to express it, then some people have an actual vote and then one or two people have veto power, or ultimately make the actual decision.
Vera: This is not about power — it’s about accountability and actually making things happen.
Alright, we’re gonna have to pick up the pace here, hit me with the next pyramid level.
Vera: So, it’s not just having the answer of why you are doing it, it is also about checking in with yourself what that why means to you, and why it is relevant to you.
Number 5. Accountability:
Mercedes:It’s interesting that in Spanish there is no direct translation of accountability — which to some extent I think is reflected many times culturally in teams, in the services we provide, and the quality of our work… we can leave this for another episode maybe, but let’s take a second to define accountability
Vera: No wonder in IT we use many of words directly in English.. Ok! so accountability is not interchangable with responsibility, it’s similar but it goes beyond that, it means that you are not only responsible for the task, but also for the results or the outcome — it’s about ownership of the task, I am liable twice (Re-liable) for its success, and for carrying it out.
Mercedes: Do your part, and then stand by it, make sure that it’s been done and done well…so, this concept of accountability in teams is essential, because when you define the norm or the process, then each piece of the puzzle MUST do their part, and when they can’t then they have to be clear about it — that’s why trust and communication go before this, because true accountability is not possible without the other two.
Vera: And then we get to the tip of the pyramid, only possible after all the other layers –
number 5. Evaluate results– Because the bottom line is.. we have a goal.. and it’s great that we all get along, and that we’re building bonds and helping each other shine and flourish.. but.
Mercedes: But a good team also gets results. The desired results, and if they don’t then they work on what has to change — this might not be friendly.. but it’s a fact. It’s not a high-performing team if we don’t get the desired results, if that doesn’t happen then we’re just people who get along and have fun together.
Vera: Haha. I’d like to add that the focus on results is important because seeing what we have achieved makes us feel proud and helps us build our self-esteem. Celebrating is important. Celebrating the team’s achievements as a whole, and also the individual aspect. Making visible how what we achieved is thanks to the input of each person that makes the team, but also that there is something that emerges in the interactions of all these individuals that is greater than the individuals.
Mercedes: There’s no I in team
Vera: You had to say it
Mercedes: I’ve been waiting since the start of the episode to say that, that and to quote Michael Jordan “the great Talent wins games; teamwork wins championships.”, so .. now I’ve added all my Pinterest quotes I think that’s a wrap
Vera: Alright then, thanks for tuning in, go out and make wonderful teams, or at least try
Mercedes: And if all else fails, don’t forget to focus on The Everything Else.
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