How I Learned: The Power of Teamwork


There is nothing better than working on a team that's humming and nothing worse than being part of one that dysfunctions. My work at companies large, small and in-between has exposed me to it all.

People like to use sports analogies about teamwork. As someone whose best team sporting position is volleyball server, I don't think those work for me. But I get it. You have to show up for the people you're working with and earn their trust by demonstrating you have their back. Let them know you care.

Let's think of it as an orchestra. I love to work and build things. It's my music. I'm even known to sing out loud when things are going well. When surrounded with people who share that passion, it brings everything to a crescendo. One sour player can ruin it all by demanding too much attention or trying to play a completely different song.

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What makes a great team?

Choosing the right players and talents and having a good eye for potential. You will make mistakes. Three times in my career I waited too long to dismiss someone who wasn't right and regretted the delay each time. Next time, if there is one, I'll get it right!

Culture and play are also important. Create small rituals, whether it's giving out a team T-shirt or souvenir when a product launches successfully, or celebrating birthdays with ice cream cake. Make one that's yours. Do something scary!

At one company I worked at, a large Chinese gong was sounded every time a sale was made. This was a startup, so each sale took a long time and meant a lot. That gong resonated through the entire floor and people paid attention to it. It was real and it didn't feel contrived. We also worked with no air-conditioning that summer and with the windows open in a brutal heat wave, big black flies were everywhere. We made a game of it and hung flypaper, then tracked the results each morning like a true scientific experiment. It made it fun.

I'm not a newbie, yet I'm still learning how to do this team leader thing. (Yes, there is no 'I' in team, but there has to be leadership.) I have been guilty of running so fast with a vision that I forget to tell the rest of the team and no one knows where I am leading. Other times I've demanded so much of my team (because I expect so much of myself) that they can't take anymore.

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Keep it fun

On one such occasion, at another startup within a larger media company, I came to realize I really needed to show more of my fun side. So I went into a novelty store and bought soft frogs that squeaked when you squeezed them. They worked like magic.

Anyone who visited my office couldn't help but pick up the frog and start to play with it. And all my team members had one to remind them we were all in it together building this amazing new service.

When I left that company to join another startup, the team built a mini departure website with going-away stories for me. The homepage featured a lot of flying frogs. I cried a little and departed knowing I had made the right impression and my baby would thrive in the care of this hand-picked team.

We still stay in touch.

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Photo source: Getty Images

Check out more quotes on being a team player here.