I could almost see the steam coming out of Audrey’s* ears when she walked into my office. “I can’t stand it,”she said before she got through the door. “I do all this work for my boss. I don’t mind doing it. I like it in fact. But then she turns around and gives a report based on my work, and she doesn’t even bother to give me credit. Nothing. Nada. She takes all the credit. I know she’s the boss, and she’s the one who should present it. I know I’m low on the totem pole. But she could at least give me the respect of acknowledging my hard work.”
For better or worse, we live in a culture of teams. With an eye to the future, schools begin teaching team skills early in the education process, much to the chagrin of kids who, like Audrey, want recognition for their own accomplishments, and parents, who want our kids to stand out from the crowd.
Teamwork is defined by Miriam Webster’s Online Dictionary as “work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole.”
But can we be good team players and simultaneously get recognition for our own accomplishments? Not only can we, but according to research on teams in business and medicine, we can be more effective as a result. One extensive study, for example, found that medical practices are significantly safer for patients when a team approach is used in conjunction with specific skills of a particular medical practitioner.
I am not much of a sports fan myself, but I am surrounded by family members who are. From close association with a variety of team sports, I have repeatedly seen the interplay of individual and team dynamics. Apologies to all of the sports widows who might be reading this, but it does seem that sports provide some of the most useful metaphors for the struggle, so let me quickly quote from a sports writer talking about LeBron James, the NBA basketball star who has been in the news so much recently that his name will be familiar to even the least athletically inclined among us.
Bob Ryan, of the Boston Globe, says, “LeBron is not comfortable doing it by himself. He has learned to take over when it is necessary, but it does not come naturally to him.” He says that LeBron, who is by all reports one of the world’s greatest athletes, integrates a “generosity of basketball spirit” with skill, speed and a capacity for leadership.
Teamwork and leadership have certain things in common:
Respect for others
Respect for one self
Capacity to communicate
Willingness to negotiate
None of these four tools stands completely alone. They are interwoven from very early in life. Parents can nurture a child’s learning of these skills long before they start any kind of formal education. In truth, a family is a team, and team skills contribute to the smooth running of any family activity. A child who learns that sometimes his own needs will be met first and sometimes those of other family members will take priority will soon develop the capacity to manage the frustration of not always being the top dog on a team. Talking about what he needs, learning to respect both his own desires and those of other family members, and learning to negotiate and compromise will teach him key skills for future team experiences.
In this process a child can learn to negotiate the basic contradiction of teamwork – to feel like a unique and special person and at the same time to be a part of a group, sometimes without an individual identity.
When Audrey* and I talked about her feelings about her boss’s “stealing” of her work, it became clear that what was bothering her the most was that she was not being given credit for her contribution. According to many researches into teamwork, recognizing this need is key to the success of any team. Group members will pull hard for the group if they also feel that their hard work will be recognized. Team leaders who are tempted to take all of the credit will also do better if they acknowledge the work of team members. Not only does this almost always lead to greater efforts from the individuals involved, but it also shows respect for their staff – which will in turn bring greater respect for their own leadership skills.
The reality is that we all need this experience – to feel that our efforts, as members of the family or the team or the group, are appreciated. Even children really don’t need to be “more” special than anyone else in the family. They just need some respect. And like LeBron James, they need to feel that they aren’t alone.
For Further Reading:
C. Larson and F.M.J. LaFaston. Teamwork: What Must Go Right/What Can Go Wrong (SAGE Series in Interpersonal Communication)
K.G.Shojana, B.W. Duncan, & K.M. McDonald, et al, (editors). Making health care safer: a critical
analysis of patient safety practices. Rockville, MD:U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; 2001. pp. 501–10
Teaser image source: http://sharedsymbolicstorage.blogspot.com/2012/01/nimal-cognition...
*names and identifying data changed to protect privacy of clients and their families