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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

Sorry, But You're Doing This "Teamwork" Thing All Wrong

In most cases, I think of myself as a team player. I’m open to other ideas and opinions, and I’m typically willing to give serious consideration to suggestions that other people have.

But, there’s always one instance in which I have a tough time putting the team first: When I know my way is best. It’s not that I want to broadcast a “my way or the highway” attitude. I’m just entirely confident that my method will be the most effective, most efficient, and all around best way to get things done. Yet no one will listen to me!

Are you rolling your eyes and scoffing at me yet? If so, you’re not alone—all of my previous teammates are right there with you.

Admittedly, I think this is something we all struggle with. When we’re encouraged and groomed to be so collaborative and team-oriented, how can we ever manage to hold our ground and stand firm in our own methods? How can we get everyone to see that our way is the best way—without coming off like a condescending, tantrum-throwing know-it-all?

Well, previously, I would rely on some combination of scowling, stomping my feet, and complaining about how short-sighted my team was (I don’t recommend that approach). But then, I discovered some sound advice from best-selling author Seth Godin about exactly how you can get other people onboard with your goals and ideas.

Godin explains that in order to get a group of people on the same page, you all need to make three agreements:

We agree on the goals. We both want the same outcomes, we're just trying different ways to get there.

We agree on reality. The world is not flat. Facts are actually in evidence. Statistics, repeatable experiments and clear evidence of causation are worth using as tools.

We agree on measurement. Because we've agreed on goals and reality, we agree on what success looks like as well.

You’ll notice there’s one thing that’s missing from this list: the method. Nowhere does Godin assert that everybody needs to agree on the same approach. There are, after all, numerous different ways to skin a cat.

Reading this made me realize that I had it all wrong. I was placing all of my emphasis on getting people to back up my own method, that I was completely skipping these other three, more important pieces of the puzzle.

So, is it any wonder that my teammates would often look at me like the 2009 VMAs version of Kanye West ? Not really. I was so stuck in convincing everyone to see the light and agree with my approach, I didn’t care about anything else.

And, ultimately, I was wasting my energy on the least crucial part. If these three agreements about the goal, the reality, and the measurement are in place before any work is started, things will ultimately work themselves out. Even if you do all have different routes to the final destination, you at least always know your whole team is driving in the same direction under the same conditions.

Doesn’t that sound so much better than fighting people all the way from the first brainstorming meeting to the presentation? I’ll answer that for you, yes—yes it does.

Photo of people working together courtesy of Geber86/Getty Images.