How many times does this happen to you? You are assigned a project, a task, a “to-do,” and based on how it was communicated to you, you believe you must accomplish the task alone. Your fiercely independent American thinking kicks in, and you attack the task with gusto. Not long into the job, you find it is much harder than you anticipated. You get stuck, you get frustrated, you slow down, and you wonder why you ever agreed to complete the task anyway.
It doesn’t matter whether this is a work project, a community endeavor, or something your spouse asks you to do (like Pam asking me to write newsletters!). The best way to accomplish anything is by working together with like-minded people to achieve a common goal or noble cause.
The wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon, said, “Two are better than one because they have a more satisfying return for their labor, for if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and does not have another to lift him up. Again, if two lie down together, then they can keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? And though one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
Translated into today’s world, we have learned that creating a network or community of people and collaborating with others in teamwork gets the best results. As my mentor, John Maxwell likes to say, “Teamwork makes the dream work.”
In my more than 30 years of human resources, organization, and leadership development work, I have found three keys to effectively working together – focus, openness, perseverance.
Focus means clearly defining the result you are trying to achieve and adding value to others. Pulling together to accomplish a specific task requires everyone to be crystal clear on the end result. People working together must agree with and be supportive of that goal or objective. The result should support the greater good of all involved. When “we” accomplish the task, everyone benefits, everyone gains value. Clarity and added value help people to stay focused on the “what” and “why” of the mission.
Openness means utilizing the diverse strengths, thoughts, and capabilities of the various team members in the method or “how” to accomplish the task. Your team will bring a wide variety of experiences, knowledge, skills, and abilities from their background to the current task. We need to be open to those various perspectives; in fact, we need to proactively explore each person’s attributes to understand how they can best contribute and help us produce excellent results. If we ignore any of these individual attributes, we miss out on each team member’s added value. We should also keep this in mind as we select people to help accomplish the task, we must be open to diverse perspectives and experiences rather than looking for people who are just like us.
Perseverance is a bit of an old word that we don’t hear much lately. I like to think of it as finishing well. There is no doubt that most of the tasks we undertake will run into some difficulties or obstacles. The real satisfaction we get from accomplishing the task comes from overcoming those obstacles, working through the problems, and learning new things. We must expect that there will be difficulties, and have the mindset to work through them rather than be defeated by them.
These three keys are extremely valuable, whether we are working on a small project at work, a significant community initiative, or a simple home improvement task. Imagine if we applied the keys to the many challenges we have going on in our nation. No matter whether it is the pandemic, racial tensions, financial stress, or mental health issues (anxiety, depression, and suicide), if we were all to:
- focus on the greater good – what adds value to all of us instead of individual preferences and special interests,
- be open to the ideas of others – instead of condemning those who think differently or have different perspectives,
- be willing to work through challenging situations – instead of trying to find quick and easy ways to reach our own self-interests,
How much better we would be working together.