Reflection: Teamwork

Posted: 14th January 2022

In 1986, Steve Jobs left Apple and bought a small company for five million dollars.  That company was Pixar and it was there he provided some valuable insight about the difference between good and bad teamwork.

You see, in 2000, Pixar was moving offices and they had plans to build three separate offices: one for the computer scientists, one for the animators, and one for the Pixar executives.  When Jobs learned about the plans, he scrapped them immediately.  Why?  Because he knew the entire Pixar team needed to be together in one big space and a meeting place right in the middle.  He knew that great teamwork requires connection.  Every team has got to figure this out at some point.

Everything is fine until it isn’t, and when things get tough, such as when you’re losing a match or you have a strained relationship, that’s a true test because every team reaches that moment and the difference between good and bad teamwork is defined not when the team works together when things are easy but when things get hard.

I believe the definition of great teamwork can come down to three things.

First, during tough times, do you drift apart or stay connected?  It’s a critical distinction.  Steve Jobs knew how important that fork in the road could become for a team.  He knew there would be tough times, so his answer was to force the entire team to stay together and build their office to always be connected.  He said, “Good times or bad times, we’re going to keep running into each other, we’re going to keep figuring this out.”

The Chicago Bulls dynasty lost many times before they finally figured the key was that they stuck together during the bad times.  They didn’t drift apart.  They worked together to fix the problems.

Trust is the second key between good teamwork and bad teamwork.  Google ran an internal research called Project Aristotle, which was Google’s deep-data dive into what makes highly effective teams.  According to their executives, the two top determinants were feeling safe on the team and feeling like others were dependable.  They needed to know that their voice would be heard, valued, appreciated, and that at the end of the day, the work would get done.  But teams aren’t always the happiest groups.  They don’t always make life easier.  In fact, often they make it harder.  But when push comes to shove, a good team trusts each other and everyone has a voice.  Think about the best team you have been in where working wasn’t easy, but it was fulfilling.  You had a role, others had a role too, and at the end of the day, everyone could trust each other.

That trust is vital because the third key difference between good teamwork and bad teamwork is that teams need to be able push to each other to become their best.

The foundational research into teams is clear.  Teams have a natural plateau.  They get together, they start figuring things out, and their performance starts to normalise at a level, not at the level they could be capable of.  In order to break through that threshold, teams need some kind of leadership to push the bar up where individuals are able to trust and believe in this leader.  That’s a big part of why leadership matters.  Think about Steve Jobs, who was brought back to Apple and made Apple into the company it is today.

It’s the fundamental law of teams that everything goes well until it doesn’t, and that’s when bad teams unravel and good teams rally.  So don’t get caught off guard.  You know that these teamwork challenges are coming, whether you’re facing them now or not.  Be prepared today for the challenges of tomorrow.

Dilan Patel
Senior Prefect

Categories: Reflection Senior News
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