The Teamwork Question
By guest author: Preston Haugh
What does teamwork mean to you? At some point, everyone has been faced with the teamwork question. Initially, did you think of a sports team that won a championship? A project where you ended up with all of the work? A group of military mates turned lifelong friends? Maybe you paused and smirked, thinking of all of the quirky responses your interviewer must have sat through already. Plainly, almost all work involves group work to some extent. Maybe that’s why the question can come across as cliché. Everyone has had a team experience one way or another and you need to convey a unique one to the interviewer. As your reaction says, team experiences are memorable for different reasons. Maybe the real question should ask, “What about teamwork is valuable to you?”
The team experience is inherently goal-oriented. I say this cautiously and to the probable chagrin of my employer but while ChangeSmith’s two Chrises hold their breath, hear me out. Groups work to achieve something. A common objective brings them together. But, what separates the memories of the highest-performing championship sports team and the lopsided group project is not so much their result—they both may have achieved what they wanted— but more so their experience. Specifically, this refers to the investment and interactions of those involved. It seems like we’re comparing apples to oranges or, in this case, adrenalin to serotonin but the fact is that the positive reaction that commemorates the championship team also comes with the memories of practice, hard work, sweat equity, and fraternity.
The team is a harmonious example of a group that is loving what they’re doing, working together, firing on all cylinders, and most likely operating more efficiently than the one-man-band carrying the weight of a project. A group that is working congruously will improve faster and more dramatically going forward than one that is not. The team will be more in tune with its goals because of the tight interconnectedness of its players and its individual’s honest efforts for the good of the group. It’s the concerted effort of the team’s individuals to care about each other that makes its members happier and overall more engaged. Ultimately, the whole exceeds the sum of the parts and the team is more successful because the individual contributions are greater while the collective is enjoying the process and relationships just as much as the outcome.
I’m a new intern. Starting out, I knew about as much about consulting as a new client (probably less if we’re being honest). What I did know about; however, is effective teamwork. Abashedly, my cliché answer to the proverbial teamwork question is in-fact my soccer team. I say cliché in an “often used” sense because while many have participated in a sports team, I don’t consider my experience common at all, nor should you. Conveniently, my old coach is now my boss and, as he and those close to me know, I loved soccer more than anything. Our team back in the day was good. Very good. A popular national ranking website for youth soccer called GotSoccer even had our team ranked as the #1 team in the America for several consecutive months. We were consistent contenders in every tournament we entered, were an MLS Academy affiliate club, and won the VA State Championship. To get there we played and won more big games than I could count. Our practices were hard, and we worked harder on our own. By the time the season came around we didn’t even need to look where we were going to play the ball. We knew exactly where our teammates were and exactly where they were about to be. Mind you, I can’t play soccer anymore. But when I think back, I don’t necessarily think about the wins. Don’t get me wrong, they were great but as I said earlier, I remember the experience. My memories are of the sweaty embrace of my friends, the kick in the butt on the last stretch of a run, having each other’s backs after a scuffle, and the times where you knew you needed to cover for a teammate because they were visibly too tired to breathe. The ways we communicated without speaking had been so engrained and repeated that they were instinctive and the ways we worked for and fed off each other were what made us successful. We had all bought into each other.
A better served and less platitudinal example may come from one of the smartest people I know: my best friend, Joey. He’s one of those people whom you envy for their effortless brains. He’s the guy who smoked the class average by skimming the textbook on the walk to class, the guy who taught himself how to rebuild an engine, the guy who will tutor you on a class he’s never even taken. Joey was a varsity football player, homecoming king, member of the student government, and an Ivy league hopeful. Oh, and he drove a Mustang…the epitome of high school cool. Interestingly though, Joey pursued his future at the United States Naval Academy—a great school and incredible opportunity, but a choice a lot of us didn’t quite understand. I didn’t figure it out until months later while talking to his dad. Along with Navy, Joey had gotten into some of the other best schools in the country, but they missed something that he couldn’t find anywhere else. His dad, also a military man and Joey’s football coach, explained to me that it wasn’t Navy’s great academics, rigid structure, or inherent job security that drew Joey in. He said, “Joey hated the idea of no longer being on a team.” And that made sense. He had spent the better part of his life thus far whole-heartedly throwing himself into tight-knit groups of people, making friends out of strangers and family out of teammates. That’s why Annapolis and a Naval commitment
were a perfect next step. In terms of high-level, effective group work there is none more efficient than the military. They are trained until they dream of drill sergeants and make their beds while their eyes are still shut. Under no circumstances will they let the person standing next to them down. While my soccer team might have “gone to war” for each other on the pitch, Joey was committed to an experience where teamwork represented the very highest stakes.
What I’ve come to learn is that teamwork is not about the result, it’s about the outcome. It may sound like semantics, but bear with me. Always set goals and chase them to your heart’s content, but be cautious with how you define them. Be careful with how you define success. You will find that the most successful and most rewarding experiences comes from being a responsibility-centered actor in a team hurtling towards an outcome-oriented goal. This is directly opposed to you as the reward-centered actor droning towards an output or result-oriented goal. Think about it. You don’t think of Jordan’s Chicago Bulls without Scottie Pippin and Dennis Rodman or Arsene Wenger’s “Invincibles” without Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, and Patrick Vieira. They were each an integral part of what became legendary groups, not just legendary individuals. Perhaps the best example goes to the forever-wholesome Mighty Ducks— the story of the unbeaten lawyer asked to coach a group of undersized kids in oversized hockey pads. They are so terrible he begins to wonder if they actually like losing. After a period of dragging the kids through the mud and putting them through an emotional wringer that would undoubtedly get him fired in this day in age, they begin to come around. Or should I say, he begins to come around? Lo and behold, once the kids start working as a team, they become true champions and overcome their own obstacles as well as those of their coach. It’s a tale as old as time. Don’t be the great result, be the great team and the outcome will come with it.
Whether you “clichéd” your way through the teamwork question or not, I hope you got the job and you’ve made a championship-winning experience an infectious presence amongst your colleagues. I’m just now starting out, but from the little professional experience I have, I can see that I’m in the right place. It’s a place that speaks from authenticity and a genuine anticipation for what Chris Smith, one of the Principals at ChangeSmith, calls the “remarkable experience.” If teams in sports, schools, and the military can work under a premise of effective communication, hard work, people-based mentorship and camaraderie then why shouldn’t businesses? Can you envision how much more efficiently a company that predicates healthy rhetoric, leadership, and personable effort alongside its goals would work? I could imagine but instead, I’ll get to see it firsthand.
The preceding blog was authored by Preston Haugh, 2020 Summer Intern at ChangeSmith. Preston has returned to Bates College in Maine where he will complete
his bachelors degree in Economics, continue to enjoy his experience with the Bates varsity golf team, and pursue a healthy career in Management Consulting. In my 18 years of coaching youth soccer, Preston was one of the best players I've ever had the privilege of coaching. He's an even better person.
From L>R: Preston Haugh, Alejandro Maldonado, Coach Chris Smith. Learn more about Preston at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/preston-haugh-a3b384174/