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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Volleyball Reminded me of Three Keys to Teamwork

Tuesday was a holiday in Hong Kong and I had the opportunity to attend my high school daughter’s volleyball team practice. I really enjoy team sports and have always welcomed the opportunity to delve into what makes a team work well together.

As I watched the players practice the bump, set, spike drills I noticed a lot of “chatter” between the team. When ball would come over the net the first hitter would call out that she was going to hit the ball to the rest of the team. The setter would then call the ball to her and identify the girl she intended to “set” the spike for. While this was going on the other girls would take up positions to backup various team members in the event the ball was somehow missed; each calling out to their teammates what they were doing. Everyone understood their role and communicated it to their team every time the ball came over the net. Often team members would adjust their role depending on where the ball came over the net; each knowing the roles that needed to be filled and called out their role to the rest of the team; each team member would then fill in the gaps created by the shift, essentially the team constantly adjusted and filled based upon what each member was saying they were doing. At no point did any member of the team say it wasn’t her job to perform a role, if the position or the back up needed to be done she stepped in and did it while letting her team mates know what they were doing.

While watching this practice I realized there was three points that continued to reoccur throughout the bump, set, spike exercise that enabled success:

- Know your position or role (but be flexible)
- Back up your team mates
- Constantly communicate what you are doing

Know your position or role (but be flexible)
Each team member understood the position she was playing on the court and had the flexibility to fill any gaps that appeared when the ball came over the net. The office environment is much the same. We should each understand our role and act to complete the functions of our role as effectively as possible. However, there are times when we will need to adjust because of the nature of the project and how it came into being. The key here is to be flexible. If a team mate said, “it isn’t my job to bump” then the ball wouldn’t stay in play. The same is true in an office environment. To keep your company in play and succeed you will need to have flexibility to step into another role on occasion.

Back up your team mates
Often we are assigned projects that are much bigger than one person can do on their own. To succeed we will need to enlist the help of others and that is why we back up our team mates. We should be constantly looking at our team members both upstream and downstream and offer to help them. I have encountered countless office environments where each person understood her specific role very well but couldn’t tell me how her output affected the overall process. Often we are spending our time focused only on ourselves when we could be so much more valuable focusing on the group.

Constantly communicate what you are doing
Too often we assume that people know what we are doing when the reality is much different. We should talk to our peers and upstream and downstream team members. Let them know what we are doing and collaborate on ways to improve how we are working. If we are not consistently working to improve our productivity we will lose out to organizations that are that much better or cheaper. (The subject of another post will be the importance of managing against the margin compression) Team work is about getting to know your team, spending time with them, and understanding how your partners work together.

If you were to apply these simple principals in your daily work activity, I believe you would find work assignments more enjoyable and with fewer errors.

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