This article first appeared when my colleague Debra Calvert asked me to create a guest post on teams. The title: “Examples of Teamwork Skills: Pay It Forward.” I thought you would enjoy reading it as well. The article is republished on this site with our permission!
My commitment to creating remarkable teams results from my own membership on a remarkable cross-functional team, early in my career. I have the privilege of paying my own experience forward when I coach and mentor new teams.
My own defining team moment arrived when I was assigned to a cross-functional new product development team in the pharmaceutical industry. I am a scientist by training. My role involved clinical oversight to research necessary to create and justify claims about a new over-the-counter-product.
I took my role very seriously. As the youngest person on the team, I worked with professionals from operations, legal, marketing, sales, finance. During the first “team” meeting, we strutted our vast stores of knowledge around like peacocks with their tails spread.
Then something remarkable happened: we called ourselves out. Each one of us decided we were not going to accomplish anything by living our roles inside the biases of legacy professional mindset. We promised each other that “Us versus Them” would not exist on our team, even if it thrived throughout the culture of our organization.
The rest is history. Sometimes I led, sometimes I followed, depending on required expertise to execute strategy. Everyone mentored each other. When knowledge gaps were identified, we searched for additional expertise. The products we created, nearly 30 years ago, still are knocking the socks off competitors’ products.
That first remarkable team is the basis for my professional mantra: “Depending on where we sit around the table, we see the same things – differently. Collaborate around those differences.”
Fast forward to today.
I sit in a business school classroom. I am a mentor for Entrepreneurship (aren’t we all entrepreneurs if we are in business?). This year I have a team of 5 testosterone-charged young men, determined to get an “A” in the course. I have coached these teams before. I know this course is legendary. Teams eventually learn it is not about getting the “A”, it is about the journey along the way. This year’s team doesn’t understand that yet.
We begin working on a new pharmaceutical entity. Week 1: the team is strutting their academic credentials around, like peacocks with their tails spread. The researcher, a foreign national from an extremely gracious culture, maintains respect in spite of this spectacle. I have seen this professional behavior before, haven’t I?
One self-appointed leader emerges, the one with the most dominant personality. The mission of the team, he declares, is for him to get an “A” in the course. If everyone works hard, perhaps everyone else also will get an “A.”
The team looks at me. Mentoring is interesting, especially at the university level where I can make the greatest impact on facilitating professional “defining moments.” I smile. “Look, there’s a couple of things we need to make clear during the first class,” I say serenely. “First of all, I am not your mother. Second, I do not care whether you complete your weekly homework. What I am here to do is create a remarkable team. Our team’s persona and direction will unfold by week 3 of this course.”
Everyone looks at each other, as though I am speaking in riddles.
A SWOT (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats) analysis is completed for Week 2. The team is devastated. No one gets an “A” on the assignment, even though everyone completed their assigned part of the analysis. Not even the self-appointed leader of the pack. Heads turn to me for direction. I focus on how everyone can work more collaboratively in revising their SWOT analysis. We discuss the importance of gaining the learning and tools needed during subsequent classes to create a meaningful SWOT analysis.
It’s Week 3. More projects. More disappointments. The team’s frustration explodes. “This isn’t a 3-credit-hour course, this is more like a 7-credit-hour course! It is taking up our lives. We obsess so much about the problems to be solved that it is eating into our other course time,” they exclaim.
“Now you are talking,” I smile back. “Now you are thinking like startup CEOs who are committed to seeing this project through to completion. It’s not about getting an ‘A’ anymore, is it? It is about the heroes’ journeys you are collectively experiencing, leading and following each other. You also are learning that institutional systems do not work flawlessly, let alone dependably. It is up to your team.”
I tell them the story of my first remarkable team. I set my expectations for their team: to target becoming remarkable, inclusive, collaborative, innovative and brave.
During the remainder of the semester, the team suspends their egos. They tackle incredibly difficult regulatory issues surrounding technology commercialization. They devote time to making sure each team member is competent, confident and successful as they complete Milestone Assignments.
Like all remarkable teams, they get to the finish line together. Their Pitch to investors is rock-star quality. Yes, they all earn their “A” for the course. Ultimately, they understand that the basis of their grade weighs the value of their collaboration and humanity dealing with real-life issues which often derail startups and mature businesses alike.
The team graduates and moves on to rewarding careers. Most importantly, their experience imprints on their professional DNA. I am quite certain they will pay it forward many times during their careers.
Babette Ten Haken is the Founder and President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC. She has one of the most distinctive voices in today’s future workforce, professional development and customer success communities. She traverses the interface between tech workforce hiring strategy, developing and coaching collaborative technical and business teams focused on customer success and customer retention. Babette’s playbook of collaboration hacks, Do YOU Mean Business? is available on Amazon.
Image source: Fotolia