To characterize teams as a powerful chain misses one vital weakness. The same deficiency applies to many other images of teamwork, be it a set of building blocks, a pyramid, a puzzle, or players moving in unison.
Assuredly, teamwork that divides tasks multiplies success. But that’s not enough or, more critically, it fails to achieve its greatest potential. A division of labour is part of teamwork and it does work. Sports teams use it to win games. But even in winning, have you noticed that announcers typically say that the winners possessed something more—some indefinable extra?
The greatest strength derives from how a team is structured. Unions based on a division of labour achieve sporadic success. Such teams are subject to the failings of its weakest link. And there is always a weak link. It could be in the form of a neophyte to the group, differing levels of experience or knowledge about the problem at hand, newness of the task, or countless other situations.
How do you prepare for these inevitable shortcomings? How do you structure your team to unleash energies that transcend a simple division of labour? Simply, “collaborative teamwork.”
In collaborative line-ups, players fulfil defined roles. For example, in hockey, there are left and right wingers, centres, defence, and a goalie. Each player is responsible for a distinct activity. However, the winners are typically the players who transverse their demarcated jobs and take on shared responsibilities. Centres will back check, defence will take to the offense, wingers will drop back to the vacated defence post, defence will shield openings in the net, and so forth.
Whether you are part of a study group, a department, a task force, or other grouping, the best team has more shared responsibilities than there are divisions of labour. Teams who practise collaborative teamwork, rather than individuality, ensure the success of the group.