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Each year in the Spring and Fall, I volunteer in a world that’s very different from the one I spend much of my waking and working hours in:  as an assistant coach to 20 grade-school girls in an after school program called Girls on the Run.

teamworkGirls on the Run teaches life and leadership skills within the context of a running program.  At the end of 10 weeks, several hundred girls from programs all over the region celebrate their accomplishments by participating in a 5K.

As you can imagine there are all types of backgrounds, abilities, personalities, and emerging leadership styles.  We have outgoing and shy, talkative and quiet, those comfortable out front, and those who prefer the middle of the pack.

While running is sport that hones individual mental and physical skills, these girls are also experiencing what it means to be supportive and encouraging in an inclusive, collaborative environment.  They’re learning the power of success through teamwork.

Teamwork is important in every aspect of our lives. Behind nearly every success are both individual contributions and those of the greater team.  This article shares some specific actions you can take in building a high-performance team.

  • Clearly define and document what teamwork looks like.  Ask your team for the specific actions they see that personify teamwork, and also create your own list of expectations. The key here is in the specifics of the action.  For example, if collaboration is mentioned as a key component of teamwork, dig deeper to find out what actions tell you collaboration is actually taking place.  This approach improves engagement and commitment to teamwork because it’s created by the team, and it works for both formal reporting structures and cross-functional project teams.
  • Create and regularly use a professional development plan.  Professional development plans, when designed well and used consistently, make a big difference in creating a culture of teamwork.  In my case, I assigned development planning as a project to a team member.  She was responsible for all aspects of research, design, communication, and execution.  The result was a bottom-up engagement from the entire team that I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to achieve.  This is something you can adapt to your own development, in addition to formal plans within your organization.
  • Encourage team members to take the initiative in collaborating with one another.  Team members need to invest in learning about one another personally, as well as their professional roles.  Encourage them to connect, outside of formal projects and interactions.
  • Recognize and reinforce performance behaviors you want to see, and compassionately confront the ones you don’t.  When someone on the team does something particularly well and it yields a result you’d like to see repeated – be sure to communicate those specifics to the individual and the team.  On the flip side, don’t shy away from compassionately confronting what’s not working.  As uncomfortable as it might be, if we have set expectations correctly, our teams should expect conversations on what’s working well and areas for improvement.
  • Reward individual AND team performance.  When it comes to rewarding people, often the focus is on individual achievement.  But have you considered the value of recognizing and rewarding a teamwork mindset?  For example, my team is working on a project right now that will take work from multiple people to create success – no one person can do it alone.  When the project is completed, I intend to recognize individual contributions, and also acknowledge the big-picture teamwork that it took to create that success.

True long-term success comes from teamwork, not from individuals alone, as evidenced in this proverb:

Whether you are an emerging leader or in an individual contributor role, it’s important to be a model team member, while continually fostering the team’s growth and success. Although we live in a fast world that often emphasizes individual achievements, going far with the help of our teams is what will make the most impact.



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