ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - February 2001


Issue Highlight — Back To The End Of The Line
- Peter Block explores why the customer has become less important and what this means for those who care about employee development and organizational change.

 In This Issue...
Quality At Lightning Speed
My Hero!
Two Heads Are Better Than One
Leader Of The Pack

Peter Block Column
Views for a Change
Heard on the Street

Return to NFC Index








Two Heads Are Better Than One
How Developing Teamwork as an Individual Skill Can Take the Pain Out of Group Work

Whether you like it or not, teams are most likely a reality at your workplace. What many of us don’t realize is that it is how we view the teams as individuals that ultimately predicts success. Each team member is equally responsible for that success
and sometimes it takes a little training to remind us of that.
  Christopher Avery of Partnerwerks in Austin, Texas, offers ways to get the most
out of teamwork both personally and professionally. Without telling people what they already know, Avery wants to take the fear out of working in a shared-responsibility situation. Supporters and skeptics, read on to see how you can improve the
productivity and rewards of working in a cohesive group.

Consider the continuum of cooperation: At one end is individual achievement, where
we work by ourselves, for ourselves. At the other end is communal thinking, where personal sacrifices are made for the good of the team. Personal success and
teamwork, forever irreconcilable. And never the twain shall meet.

  Or shall they? Dr. Christopher Avery, president of the consulting firm Partnerwerks
in Austin, Texas, teaches something that is a mite counterintuitive: The best way to think of teamwork is as an individual skill. “If I’m serving on a team, whether or not
that team is successful is my responsibility regardless of my position,” he explains.
It’s a blend of two seemingly exclusive concepts. It’s individual achievement as a member of a team.

  “Let me take it even further,” Avery hastens to add. “It’s individual achievement in
an increasingly crowded society. It’s figuring out how to play win-win in a win-lose world.”

A Changing Workplace

  According to Dr. Avery, competition and cooperation are not opposites as
traditionally supposed. This is a notion which has created problems for a new
way of doing business. “We have created a work culture where we tell people that if
they do a good job, do as they’re told and keep their noses clean, they’ll be rewarded
as individuals. And now we’ve changed the game. Now the game is to work in a networked economy, cross-strata, cross-level, cross-functional, cross-organizational
and in teams.”

  Many people have not yet been trained for this “new game” of working in productive, individual-driven teams. They still see cooperation as something that diffuses responsibility and subsequent rewards. This misconception—that working in teams is incompatible with working for yourself—is behind a lot of biases against working with others. We think: If I help you get more, then I get less.

  Avery concurs, “As long as we believe that teamwork is a group skill and continue to focus people’s attention on someone else being responsible for the effectiveness of
that group, then I believe professionals are going to continue to suffer.” The idea is to continue to contribute as an individual who is now part of a team.

  “I am interested in showing people how they can be more effective and win bigger
and faster by stepping up to shared responsibility,” he says. “In other words, in order
for me to win, you and I have to win together.”

Shifting Perspectives

  One bias against teams comes from the belief that a worker’s role is solely in the
area of his or her technical skill, not in relationships with coworkers or teammates.
The problem with ignoring relationships is that teams (or, more broadly, networks)
are a like-it-or-not reality of the new workplace.

 “For me, ‘team’ means that we are not relying on a hierarchical or managerial chain
of command to get things done,” Avery explains. If you don’t have a boss controlling
you or threatening you or offering you incentives to get things done, but instead you’re working in a network—a team-based, alliance-based flat structure—then you have two choices: Either you can take responsibility for the quality of the relationships that you have in those networks, or you can live at the mercy of them and be a victim...not going anywhere.”

  Another problem is that teambuilding is often seen as downtime. “We don’t believe
that time spent building the team is time spent getting our work done. There is a
belief (or a myth) in industry that time devoted to teambuilding is going to cost us
in terms of productivity.” But, in study after study, this turns out to be incorrect. Spending time building teams is time spent working, and it is time spent learning
how to work faster and more efficiently.

  The upshot? It’s common sense that two (or three, or 20) heads are better than one.

A Common Goal

  Perhaps one reason that teamwork is a hard sell is the fact that it is often perceived
as “touchy-feely” and hence impractical. Avery would offer a different perspective. “I
work from the point of view of aligning outcomes rather than having people like each other,” he says. “When you say ‘teamwork,’ people think about having people like
each other better and bond better...but the literature on group cohesion has turned toward not interpersonal attractiveness, but toward ‘shared affinity for a common goal
or outcome.’”

  Teamwork is about reaching shared goals, not being social. “This means that you
and I will tend to become a team if we’re in the same boat together, regardless of
how much we like each other.”

Increased Satisfaction

  Better and more effective individual-driven teams create more for team members
than personal gain. When people are working toward a common goal, the big picture
is in sight and “working” means more than just the grind, in which one seems to be making little to no foreseeable progress or difference.

  The advantages to a team mentality are clear: increased motivation to get jobs
done, more pride in those jobs and more willingness to make sure things get done correctly. This is a willingness to learn new skills; helping to combat narrow,
this-isn’t-in-my-job-description thinking.

  “What people did in some of our finest cross-functional teams that was so effective
was outside of their job description,” Avery reports. “And when we asked them about
it, they said, ‘Well, I had to do that so I could do my job.’” This is outside-of-the-box thinking in action, a much more motivation-oriented approach to a project than simply meeting accountabilities. It is far more satisfying to work toward a clear objective than just to do one small piece of the puzzle.

Fun With Skeptics

  Avery’s thoughts on cooperation and teamwork are not empty theory, either. Partnerwerks ( offers a public seminar entitled, “Responsibility-Based Team Skills Development for Professionals,” as well as
local In-House/On-Site consulting where theories are put into practice. One business for
which Partnerwerks consulted was CONDEA Vista, a research company staffed
by scientists and technicians—professional cynics.

  Avery recalls the challenge fondly. “I love working with skeptics; I love working
with people who push back.”

  Alice Dendinger, CONDEA Vista’s human resources director, reports great results
with Partnerwerks’ TeamWisdom™ concepts. “We have had a lot of team-type
training over the nine years that I have been here and it really seems to have hit the mark,” she says. “People have taken it and immediately gone from the training room back to their workstations and put it to use. They really have embraced it and been excited about it.”

  It was not always so easy with the skeptics, however. “Our people have been
through lots of team when I mentioned this and reviewed it with people
here; a lot of them groaned,” she says.

  Cynicism aside, the first group through the process immediately warmed up to
the concepts. They had a problem with their supervisor who was having trouble managing his team. The group put their training into action. They confronted the supervisor and eventually resolved the problem. “The training gave them the
confidence to have that dialogue with the supervisor, whereas it never would have happened before,” Dendinger reports. As a bonus, the confrontation also turned the supervisor around and on to the TeamWisdom™ concepts.

  Much of the skepticism disappeared when this first group began offering their enthusiastic testimonials. Now, about half of CONDEA Vista’s population has gone through Avery’s training. Dendinger says that the change in attitudes was obvious. “There were many people who went into it because their supervisor thought it would
be a good idea and came out of it thinking that it was a good idea.”

  We know what teamwork is in the broad sense and Christopher Avery knows
we do. His job is to show people how to use teamwork in a new, interconnected
society, in order to work better and more effectively. “I’m not trying to tell the world anything it doesn’t know about the upside of teamwork,” he says. “My position is,
we’ve got an entire population of professionals who don’t understand the basic
nature of working in a shared-responsibility situation. They fear it. They’ve grown
up in an atmosphere where they were told to avoid it because they should
demand a clear accountability and individual rewards and recognition. All I’m
saying is, we need to start developing team skills in professionals in a different
way than we have in the past.”

  People compete. People cooperate. How much and how well we do each depends
on our personal outlook.

  “We cooperate when we have more brightness in the future,” Avery says with a hint
of optimism. “I teach people how to create brightness in the future.”

February 2001 News for a Change Homepage

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