Teamwork. People doing things together to create awesome things. Because so many awesome things in this world aren’t made by just one person. They’re put together by many people having a meeting of minds and collaborating to make something wonderful happen or come to life. It’s fraught with perils, doesn’t always work out and is utterly fascinating to watch no matter if it goes well or explodes. It’s why they have these reality shows with all these team challenges, so we can watch all the dramatic egocentric personalities they cast clash.
Teamwork brings out the loner malcontents faster than anything else. There are just some people who cannot, despite knowing that their career will depend on it, work on a team. They either can’t articulate their ideas, won’t articulate their ideas, proceed to steamroll over their teammates or bring personal negative emotions into the team. Artists are especially bad about working on teams. They have visions in their head. They have an ideal and an aesthetic and they despise compromise. Egos clash and drama ensues.
In my opinion, teams have to have a few key ingredients to be successful, vision; organization, communication, sharing and confidence in the end result.
When you’re working on a team, there needs to be a vision. Whatever the project is and however long that you’re working on it, there has to be an end result an ideal that everyone is striving for. If there isn’t a picture, no matter how vague or fuzzy, that the team is striving for, then the team has no rudder and no wind. There is no place for them to go. There are no stars for them to chart their course by. The vision is the goal. And if everyone is committed to the same goal then, they can proceed in the same direction.
And in order to be on the same page, you have to talk to each other.
I do a lot of work with Becca. We talk. A lot. In fact, we’ve talked almost every day for several hours for close to a decade. And a lot of this talk revolves around our writing and our games and involves exchanging ideas. We communicate openly and freely with each other. We trust each other’s judgement to say, ‘that’s good. That’s not as good. That’s cliché. That’s silly. Do it. Don’t do it. This isn’t bad but could be improved.” In order to work together the way we do, we have to talk. We have to share what is in our minds. And sometimes, this is hard because sometimes the things we need to say to each other are important issues that are difficult to talk about. They involve change. They involve challenging our preconceived notions of who each other are. We both bring our ideas to the table. Sometimes, or a lot of times, we bring the same idea to the table at the same time. (It is moderately scary.) Or we both bring an idea and then the ideas are compatible and make an even greater idea if we put them together. Then it’s high fives and cocktails (metaphorically.) This wouldn’t happen if we didn’t open our mouths or type on the keyboard.
A team can’t work if someone on the team isn’t talking. It can’t work if everyone isn’t sharing their creativity. In a true collaboration, one person’s ideas don’t trump everyone else’s ideas. If one person is steamrolling the project and having all the ideas and dictating the future, then what is the point of the team? If one team member sits there and shoots all the ideas down but refuses to bring their own ideas to the table, then, why are they there? If one team member just refuses to talk even to say, “I’m out of my depth” then the team can’t move forward to help bring them out of the bog they are in and onto solid ground with the rest of the group. You especially can’t have negative emotions when entering a team. The negative emotion immediately sabotages any sort of contribution that person could make to the team. A lot of times, when people have negative emotions such as anger, when they enter a team they either shut down not wanting to contribute or they rip the team apart by being nasty.
Teams that work talk to each other and they listen to each other. It’s a word association exercise. One person brings up a word and others add to it by saying what word they think of first when they hear the first word and it builds from that until there is a huge web of words that represent ideas from everyone that can be narrowed down and rearranged to form something amazing.
Talking isn’t always easy. Sometimes there is something in the brain that can’t be articulated. Sometimes ideas are rejected and the person can’t even explain why other than they don’t like it.
The reason why communication can work is by submerging the ego and negative emotions. The people on the team are on the team for reason. They all have talents and ideas and see things from a unique point of view. They might not have the greatest personalities or their views might seem strange or even weird. There are going to be people who outright reject the ideas of the group. But, if you can learn to let go of the idea that they are attacking you when they reject your ideas, then instead of being a personal insult, it is a chance to overcome the conflict to try and make it better. It comes back to communication and if they can articulate why they don’t like the idea. It is easier for a creator to know how to change their course if the person who doesn’t like the idea can at least tell them why. (And ‘your idea is stupid’ is not a valid reason.)
Let me put this clearly, if someone is on a team and for whatever reason they won’t talk about their ideas or contribute to the conversation, then they have only themselves to blame if the team fails.
So many teams fail at communication. They can’t even put together their goal. And without a goal and being able to talk about the goal, there can’t be any organization to the team. One person can’t say, “I’ll do this and you do that,” without having the blueprint for the end result in front of them. No matter how big the team is, whether it is partners sharing equal responsibility or large groups of people around the table with a clear leader delegating authority, there has to be some sort of organizational structure. There has to be, here is our goal, this is our deadline and here is what we need to do to achieve the desired result.
Teams need to be organized and when they’re organized everyone needs to pull their weight doing what they do best. You can’t utilize someone’s talents and abilities if you don’t know what they are. A team rises and falls on whether or not the members do their work. Work styles and work ethics might not match up but what matters is the results. When it comes to a team of more than three people, then there is usually a need to have a clear leader. A two or three person team, everyone can pull in the same direction. However, the smaller the team, the more it needs to be recognized that they are partners doing an equal amount of the work.
Another thing about team work is because you are a team, there is no shame in helping each other. In fact, helping and giving expertise should be encouraged. If the team wants something to be done, and the person whose responsibility it is for that particular part doesn’t know how to do it and someone else does, it is for the team’s benefit if that person steps forward and goes “let me help you, let me show you.” Because in the end, it isn’t a certain individual that is going to get credit for the team’s work. The team is going to get the credit. This also puts less stress upon the team if people have the self awareness to go “this is what I am strong in and what I’m good at. I can see you are struggling, let me help you.” If someone always has a strong viewpoint and a strong goal and seems to be a leader, then let them lead. If someone is good at organization, then let them organize. If someone is creative and good at coming up with ideas, then that should be their responsibility. People are happier when they are doing things they know how to do well.
Perhaps, the most important thing about teamwork is that in the end, no matter what comes out of it, no matter what happened or the personal feelings involved, you need to stand behind your work. Explanations, defenses and excuses should be put on the back burner. Whatever the team feels about the work, I feel, needs to be put to the side in exchange of, this is what we did and we aren’t going to back down from it. (And if it is bad, then yes, take responsibility for it as a whole team.) This is extremely difficult, especially if the team doesn’t work well together. If the team did an amazing job, then it is easy to say that this is our work and we’re proud of it. However, when the team does poorly, it is hard to resist the temptation to make excuses and put down teammates. There is a time where honesty is not the best policy, especially in a public setting. If any ‘what went wrong’ goes down, it should be done privately between members of the team. Publicly, the team needs to stand together and support each other.
Teamwork can be challenging, rewarding and fun or it can be the most frustrating experience in existence. When everything goes well it is exciting and satisfying to see the end result and share in the small milestones along the way. Working with Becca, sometimes I’m not so sure if I’m what I’m putting out is any good. I always think that I can do better. However, she pulls me back and tells me that my work is amazing and makes me feel great. When we come up with an idea together that is better than anything that either of us could have come up with on our own as we challenge each other to think more creatively, it’s exciting to have that ‘ah hah’ moment. We’re pretty lucky to have worked through some of the pitfalls of teamwork. Though sometimes it is still hard to put say, “what do you think?” or “This isn’t coming out right.” But as long as we communicate and give each other time to articulate what we like and don’t like constructively. It seems to turn out okay in the end.
Now, time to rock out to “Everything is Awesome.”