What Teamwork is Not

Teamwork does not mean doing everything together.

Think of your favorite team sport. Mine is soccer. I call it Real Football.

Great teamwork is beautiful to watch on a football field. It is the balance between great interplay, and moments of individual brilliance. For the football fanatics, here are two short clips from the same team to illustrate these two elements.

In organizational studies, we see great teamwork arise through relational coordination.   Relational Coordination includes having shared goals, shared knowledge and mutual respect. It includes having frequent, timely, and accurate communication. It involves a shared commitment to problem-solving together. We sometimes encourage individual brilliance through strength-based management and job crafting.

You don’t see a central defender like Gerard Pique trying to dribble past an entire team from the halfway line. You see Pique and others providing the stability and cover to enable Lionel Messi to try to pull off a play like that. You see Xavi playing a simple pass to Messi to start the move. In doing so, Pique, Xavi, and Messi are each playing to their strengths and demonstrating strong relational coordination.

Good teams in organizations have people both making extraordinary individual contributions, and astonishing collective impact.

In your team, what is better done together? What is better done autonomously?

In your organization, when do you get better outcomes by closely coordinating with other units? In what areas can you get better outcomes by acting individually?