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Teamwork Is an Individual Skill: Getting Your Work Done When Sharing Responsibility Paperback – April 9, 2001
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The Alchemy of Teams By Terry O'Keefe
A review of Teamwork Is An Individual Skill Getting Your Work Done When Sharing Responsibility by Christopher M. Avery with Meri Aaron Walker and Erin O'Toole Murphy
For all of you who have had your fill of touchy-feely exercises and teambuilding retreats, Christopher Avery brings some welcome news: Teamwork does not depend on group "bonding" or on some group facilitator's magic art.
Teamwork, says Avery, is based on individual skills and attitudes that team members learn to bring to the team table.
Avery is a well-known teamwork consultant. His interest in how groups work dates back to his doctoral studies on the Communication of Technology. Avery's passion is about uncovering what makes teams function and what makes them great.
That's a question of growing importance in the business world, as corporate hierarchies flatten and the old command-and-control structures dissolve into self-directing teams. (The book points out that in progressive companies like General Electric, there are often no more than five levels from the CEO to the most junior clerk.)
Avery's ongoing research into team performance has convinced him that great teams are built around a series of "conversations" that help to define each individual's role, agreements, and commitments to the team, and vice-versa:
* Shared Focus. Having each member explore and agree on shared purpose - why the team exists and what it aims to accomplish - is the first step in building a top team. Avery notes that full consensus really counts: "When groups pursue a direction determined by majority or authority, those who dissent (either vocally or silently) can lose energy." Therefore, people with Team Wisdom reach out to dissenters with the question: "How can we change this proposal so that it works for you?"
* Individual Commitment. Matching motivation, Avery says, is far more important than matching skills: "..if members don't have the required skills, a high performance team will improvise. The same is not true for motivation, however. Every team performs to the level of its least invested member."
* Shared Agreements. Successful teams make agreements about team behavior -what each person owes to to each other with regard to performance, accountability, and relationship. For Avery, honest but fair feedback about behavior is crucial to team success: "In a team, when you let another person break an agreement and don't call them on it, you are just as responsible for the blow to group performance as the person who let the agreement slide."
* Harnessing Differences. Breakthroughs in thinking arise not from unanimity of thought but from diversity of opinion: "The goal is to produce synergy through the discussion and appreciation of different perspectives. Teams must create explicit opportunities for team members to participate and add value."
Based on those kinds of steps, the outline for high performance begins to emerge: Teams choose their own members. Members come to clear and complete agreement on their shared purpose, and on their personal stake in the outcome. They make explicit performance commitments, and hold each other accountable with regular feedback. They exploit their differences to achieve breakthrough performance. They agree to be rewarded on team rather than individual achievement.
The book's bottom line is that teams don't have to "team build" separate from the work they do together. Just following this kind of process with commitment and integrity can't help but build powerful teams and outcomes.
Calling this a book about teamwork runs the risk of putting it into far too small a box. It contains more practical information and advice about the conditions under which we human beings optimize our work together than any other book you are likely to have read. If there is a book about the consciousness of working together, this is it.
You don't have to be in the team-building business to benefit from Avery's book - any organizational structure and any work situation will do.
Copyright Terry O'Keefe 2001
About the Author
Christopher M. Avery, Ph.D., is president of Partnerwerks and has consulted to Charles Schwab & Co., IBM., Motorola, 3M, and many others. Meri Aaron Walker's firm, Between the Lines, helps businesses locate their most powerful communication channels and build two-way messaging mechanisms that link them with audiences. Erin O'Toole Murphy is an organization designer.
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Top Customer Reviews
This work adds to the knowledge on teamwork and does so in a way that is practical, easy to read, and easy to imagine applying. Avery has demonstrated his academic research skills, because even though the average reader may not see it, his work is based on knowledge of the latest research. He also demonstrates his long history as a consultant and facilitator in industries right close to home. Even though I have been studying and working in this field myself, this book added to my knowledge. Avery, Walker and O?Toole must have also demonstrated great teamwork, because the book is very clear, engaging, and immediately applicable.
Have you ever heard, ?I just got put on a bad team?? Here is the antidote for all of us. Have you ever seen a team de-motivated, deflated over someone not keeping the agreements? People think, ?Well he?s not pulling his weight, the result won?t be good, what is the use in trying?? Have you ever had a subordinate be defensive when you were trying to give her just the tip she needed to come up to the bar? Have you ever been blindsided when it looked like the group came to agreement in lightning speed and then no one followed through. Have you ever wondered how to fix broken trust when you have ?blown it?? Have you ever wondered what a model for GOOD ? functional and effective ?collaboration was?
It is all here. Read, mark, and inwardly digest. Here is management tool and employee culture with real values. Profundity and simplicity together is a sign of importance. I am raving about this book everywhere.
Actually I just heard that the book is based on the newsletter that is sent to participants of Partnerworks workshops. On Monday, when participants have to put into practice their new skills, they have a newsletter with an easy assignment. Yeah for transformational education!
Sharon Sarles, M.Div., M.A., OSD; organizational consultant with Organizational Strategies; Vice President for Research & Development, Southwest Facilitator's Network
I was leery of the new book Teamwork Is an Individual Skill, by Christopher M. Avery, but got hooked halfway through the first chapter. If you work with people - as a manager, employee, business owner - even as a family member - you're likely to find valuable advice for building cooperative relationships and achieving common goals.
This is not a book about getting along with those you work with, or even about being nice to them. It's about helping them help you succeed. According to Avery, if you do your part (by taking responsibility for the team's performance), they'll do theirs. The team will achieve its goals, and everyone will be able to take the credit.
Following are a few of the book's suggestions:
· Realize that teams are defined not by the people on them but by what the team must do. To win individually, the members must win first as a team.
· Take responsibility for and act on troublesome situations, rather than waiting for those "in charge" to do so.
· Don't go along with something you are strongly opposed to. Without blaming, "push back," knowing that your silence would be equivalent to consent.
· Begin a team relationship with a contribution: evidence of your talents, special information to which you have access ... tools, contacts, whatever you have that supports the team's mission.
· Practice "servant leadership," Buckminster Fuller's concept of winning by helping others win.
The book continues with ideas for using conflict constructively, distinguishing criticism from feedback, building consensus, calling others on broken agreements, and much more. Avery has included individual and team exercises, so you can use Teamwork Is an Individual Skill as an employee-training manual.
I am the most experienced and capable person on my team, yet with all of my background I have come to realize how relatively little influence I often have on team performance, and on my ability to push the team in the direction I think it should go. The very first sentence in your book on page 1, "Do you share responsibility with others to get work done but don't have authority over them (and they don't have authority over you)?" absolutely floored me, 'cause that is me to the tee.
I had only gotten to page 8 of your book when I was thoroughly blown away by the directness with which the differences between flat and hierarchical structures were addressed. At my company there is no mention of this approach; even once when I mentioned the term "semi-autonomous team" to the most qualified tech (who happened to be on day shift--arguably a more hierarchical environment due to the presence of many exempt employees) he did not know what the term meant. The company has this structure in place almost as an unwritten agenda.
Your comment on page 5, "Many individuals--especially smart, high achievers--can experience great angst if asked to serve in teams." is in retrospect a great source of comfort to help me understand my angst during my three years with this company. In all of the areas I have worked in during that time I am sure that I had (at least on paper) more qualifications than any one other person (B.S. deg, two A.A.S. degs, 12+ prior years of technical experience, and a whole host of other skills that my teammates do not exhibit.) Plus add to that, that my experience has almost exclusively come from a strongly tilted hierarchical background in retrospect is why I struggled with teams, as you describe them.
Every page of your book is quite thought-provoking, causing me to pause and reflect on how your observations compare to my situation.
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So, every team member should train this skill work together.Read more