As TH began explaining the rules, I felt the clutch of anxiety. His brainstorming technique, said to have originated in the offices of Walt Disney, required a level playing field. There would be no criticism of anyone else’s suggestions. No challenges, questions, or refutations. Everyone’s contribution was to be given equal weight – and, in the end, we’d all vote equally on those we wished to keep.
I’m not wired for that sort of thing. When it comes to group activities, I like an active, competitive game. I like to test my skills against whatever is out there and see how I do – find out where I stack up.
To me, cooperating with a crowd feels like surrendering. If everyone agrees that door one is the right choice, I’m almost certain to knock on numero dos. But I had agreed to come to TH’s creative seminar, and I didn’t want to make an already challenging job more difficult for him. So I batted down my ego and played by the rules.
His game felt childish. It involved group stretching, scribbling phrases on index cards, shouting out suggestions, and pressing paper dots on a montage of sometimes childish ideas. The purpose was to “break out of the box” that our left-sided, overly analytical professional brains had been stuck in. We were trying to get ourselves to a state of mind where “breakthroughs” could evolve.
I didn’t like it, but it did work. In less than three hours, we had accomplished more than we would have in any other brainstorming session of the same length. We had, moreover, come up with some stuff I would have never come to on my own.
The experience reminded me of a week I spent at a Club Med in (I think it was) Puerto Rico. AS and I were very uncomfortable with all the smiling faces. Our plan was to spend the entire vacation off on our own, smoking cigars and drinking. But those annoying staff people would find us and surround us, tugging at us to get us to join some stupid contest.
There were times when they came closer to bodily injury than they imagined. But, in the end, they won us over. By the time we were ready to leave, we were thick in the center of the assembled crowd. We ended up dancing that inane dance they do at Club Meds around the world, swaying our hips and slapping our butts and singing in unison like the oversized children we had turned into against our will.
There are times for laughing and times for crying, times for work and times for leisure, times for vitriol and times for poetry. And there are also – if you want to get the job done right – times to lead and times to shut up and follow.
Yes, teamwork can be an important part of success – but not always. And even when it is, it is made possible only by leadership. (The mission, whether the team acknowledges it or not, has to be determined for them by someone in charge.)
When it comes to pushing things forward and making things better, a team approach usually won’t do. When you want to start a revolution, you need someone to pick up the first gun.
Keep that in mind when you read those books and articles on teamwork. Cooperation is necessary in certain situations, but most of the success in your life will come from being assertive.
When do you assert yourself… and when do you cooperate?
It’s pretty simple. When there is confusion, when it’s not clear what can be done, when opinions differ and answers are cloudy – be assertive and put yourself in a position to lead.
When you know what you want to do – when the course is set and you need everyone to pull together and march in step – that’s when teamwork comes into play.
Form teams when:
- you need ideas for a new product or project
- you need to figure out why an existing product or project is failing
- you need to complete a specific job by a specific date
The point is this: To get the most out of your greatest asset – yourself – you need to develop both leadership and team skills.
If you are instinctively assertive, you will find yourself bridling at the rules of teamwork. You will have a hard time learning how to contribute without taking over – but you have to do it.
If you are laid-back by nature, you may have trouble asserting yourself. But, bit by bit, you have to develop the skill to do so.
In every important group situation you find yourself in, ask, “Does this call for teamwork or leadership?” Figure it out – and then show how good you are at doing what’s required.