Teamwork Is an Individual Skill argues that learning to work with others may be the most important skill in the knowledge economy. The book promotes productive relationships by focusing on five abilities: assuming personal responsibility for productive relationships; creating powerful partnerships; aligning individuals around a shared purpose; trusting when something is ""just right""; and developing a collaborative mindset.
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The Alchemy of Teams By Terry O'Keefe
A review of Teamwork Is An Individual Skill Getting Your Work Done When Sharing Responsibility by Christopher M. Avery with Meri Aaron Walker and Erin O'Toole Murphy
For all of you who have had your fill of touchy-feely exercises and teambuilding retreats, Christopher Avery brings some welcome news: Teamwork does not depend on group "bonding" or on some group facilitator's magic art.
Teamwork, says Avery, is based on individual skills and attitudes that team members learn to bring to the team table.
Avery is a well-known teamwork consultant. His interest in how groups work dates back to his doctoral studies on the Communication of Technology. Avery's passion is about uncovering what makes teams function and what makes them great.
That's a question of growing importance in the business world, as corporate hierarchies flatten and the old command-and-control structures dissolve into self-directing teams. (The book points out that in progressive companies like General Electric, there are often no more than five levels from the CEO to the most junior clerk.)
Avery's ongoing research into team performance has convinced him that great teams are built around a series of "conversations" that help to define each individual's role, agreements, and commitments to the team, and vice-versa:
* Shared Focus. Having each member explore and agree on shared purpose - why the team exists and what it aims to accomplish - is the first step in building a top team. Avery notes that full consensus really counts: "When groups pursue a direction determined by majority or authority, those who dissent (either vocally or silently) can lose energy." Therefore, people with Team Wisdom reach out to dissenters with the question: "How can we change this proposal so that it works for you?"
* Individual Commitment. Matching motivation, Avery says, is far more important than matching skills: "..if members don't have the required skills, a high performance team will improvise. The same is not true for motivation, however. Every team performs to the level of its least invested member."
* Shared Agreements. Successful teams make agreements about team behavior -what each person owes to to each other with regard to performance, accountability, and relationship. For Avery, honest but fair feedback about behavior is crucial to team success: "In a team, when you let another person break an agreement and don't call them on it, you are just as responsible for the blow to group performance as the person who let the agreement slide."
* Harnessing Differences. Breakthroughs in thinking arise not from unanimity of thought but from diversity of opinion: "The goal is to produce synergy through the discussion and appreciation of different perspectives. Teams must create explicit opportunities for team members to participate and add value."
Based on those kinds of steps, the outline for high performance begins to emerge: Teams choose their own members. Members come to clear and complete agreement on their shared purpose, and on their personal stake in the outcome. They make explicit performance commitments, and hold each other accountable with regular feedback. They exploit their differences to achieve breakthrough performance. They agree to be rewarded on team rather than individual achievement.
The book's bottom line is that teams don't have to "team build" separate from the work they do together. Just following this kind of process with commitment and integrity can't help but build powerful teams and outcomes.
Calling this a book about teamwork runs the risk of putting it into far too small a box. It contains more practical information and advice about the conditions under which we human beings optimize our work together than any other book you are likely to have read. If there is a book about the consciousness of working together, this is it.
You don't have to be in the team-building business to benefit from Avery's book - any organizational structure and any work situation will do.
Copyright Terry O'Keefe 2001About the Author:
Christopher M. Avery, Ph.D., is president of Partnerwerks and has consulted to Charles Schwab & Co., IBM., Motorola, 3M, and many others. Meri Aaron Walker's firm, Between the Lines, helps businesses locate their most powerful communication channels and build two-way messaging mechanisms that link them with audiences. Erin O'Toole Murphy is an organization designer.
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