Teamwork makes the dream work

Monday, February 20, 2023

I’d encountered the phrase many times before, but after hearing my teammate, Duane, consistently wield it as an explanation of success, it became forever etched into my heart. Moreover, the saying, “teamwork makes the dream work,” has become a cultural truth here at Territory.

Teamwork defines every success we create; thus, our organization has no lone genius. We know that goals can be achieved better, faster, and often cheaper within a team than by an individual. The benefits of teamwork far outweigh its challenges, yet true collaboration within teams seems few and far among the organizations we work with.

This may explain why, in addition to embodying teamwork in everything we do, we profess it to our clients and partners. I suppose that’s because my dream is teamwork — the shared experience of banding together to achieve what no individual can accomplish alone.

Teamwork requires collaboration

I’ve heard other organizational leaders define collaboration as “the sharing of resources and power,” and I agree. Indeed, a collaborative partnership requires a mutual commitment to engage and a shared responsibility, but it takes much more than that to collaborate well.

Line drawing of three people stranded on an island surrounded by storms, a tiger, shark, and an octopus.

Picture a group of people stranded together on an island facing the wild elements. To survive, they must be creative. To collaborate, they must share goals. For example, such a group would need to:

  1. Be understanding: Employ the curiosity to define and willingness to gauge the strengths, weaknesses, perspectives, opinions, and desires of each group member
  2. Be willing collaborators: Have an intention of teamwork and believe in the power of 1 + 1 = 3
  3. Have the desire to learn: Teamwork done well will allow you to hone your skills and learn new ones, enabling shared growth and capability

A team bound together via these principles can confidently face any challenge.

Collaboration requires trust

Collaboration done well is much more than dividing-up tasks within a team and then conquering them individually. By definition, collaboration is about partnering to create something together. Building equitable partnerships requires an intimate understanding of your collaborators.

Trust is like muscle — the more you exercise it the stronger it grows and the more resilient it becomes.

Trust is like muscle — the more you exercise it, the stronger it grows and the more resilient it becomes. If you’re good at it, trusting collaborative partnerships can span years, decades, or even your entire life. Here are some tips for tuning your collaborations by building trust.

Practice empathy

Team members aren’t always fast friends, which is normal. Work to build common ground as a part of your collaborative effort. Stay curious about your teammates and look for commonalities and bonding opportunities. Work on being your word — say what you mean then do what you say, which will help to manage expectations within your team. Practice reflective listening and positive language, and always be kind but direct with your needs and desires. If you’re interested in learning more about how we employ empathy, check out, Empathy is your superpower.

Establish shared understanding

Work hard during the formation of your collaborative partnership to create a shared perspective on the problem at hand and the jobs to be done. Spend time defining roles and responsibilities within your team, so everyone knows who is doing what and by when. You may also find value in discussing the acceptance of possible failures and exploring the impacts of either succeeding or falling short of your goals.

Manage safe space

Safe spaces are easy to create but can be tricky to maintain. In addition to constructive attitudes, clarity of intent and respect for the styles and perspectives of others is critical to keep everyone feeling confident and motivated in their part of the work. Asking for opinions about your own work and exhibiting the vulnerability to ask for help are healthy behaviors within a safe space. Be a willing collaborator by accepting feedback and offering assistance, but beware of leaning in on someone’s work without being asked — it can harm trust and damage your teammates feeling of ownership.

Seek support from above

In addition to trust, confidence and belief are accelerants to effective teamwork. Organizational leaders have a role to play, even if they’re not active participants in a collaboration. Great leaders will help a team get clear on priorities and then get out of their way, offering encouragement as often as possible and constantly working to locate and remove obstacles before the team encounters them.

Keep your eyes on the goal

Letting go of outcomes can be difficult when you’re driven to meet a goal. Try to achieve an equilibrium between your own perspective and those of your teammates. You may need to let go of the outcomes you’ve conjured for the sake of the greater good.

Go farther together

I’ve seen many professionals struggle alone through challenges only to realize their hard-fought epiphanies were concocted in an echo chamber and discover they can’t survive in the wild. While you can go faster alone, you can always go farther together.

While you can go faster alone, you can always go farther together.

A partnership is a precious thing. A collaborative partnership requires skill, commitment, and experience from all parties. Pairing the right teammates is also critical — doing so allows for co-creation. Most importantly, critical to collaboration is trust. Trust builds compassion for teammates and belief in the talents within.

Collaborative partnerships can take any form. It can be talking, visualizing, or co-creating and may even happen asynchronously. Once aligned on intent, partners can meet and overcome any challenge together.

Matt Adams

A founding partner and Head of Creative Services at Territory, Matt is a master visual communicator and an acclaimed creator and director. He has a deep background in human-centered experience design, brand development, communication programs, and blended learning systems for Fortune 100 clients. He is a veteran co-pilot of the C-suite and seasoned expert in transforming great ideas into award-winning product.

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