The Secret to Successful Teamwork - THINKERS Notebook

This section doesn’t currently include any content. Add content to this section using the sidebar.

Image caption appears here

Add your deal, information or promotional text

The Secret to Successful Teamwork

"Okay fine. I'm convinced. This is the better way to do it. Now let's talk about how to implement it."

And with that, our team's intense debate about a particular feature of the new THINKERS App was over.

Now you might think that the speaker of those words "lost" the debate. After all, he was the one who was "convinced," right?

But ask Sean Jackson, the speaker of those words, and the founder and final-decision maker of THINKERS, if he feels like he "lost" that debate. 

I guarantee you he doesn't.

Because a good leader would never view it that way -- at least not for long. And neither would good team members.

Our lead developer Daniel and I don't feel like we "won" the debate even though the idea we were arguing for ultimately ended up being implemented.


The app won.

The customers won.

And that is what's actually important.

The power of 'we' over 'me'

The reason why none of us care who "won" or "lost" is because we're a genuine team. And teams, by definition, come together to work toward a common goal. 

So all that matters is the progress being made toward that common goal, not who wins this argument over here or who gets this piece of credit over there.

Our team's common goal over the last six months has been developing the best iOS app on the market for capturing, storing, and sharing ideas.

We want it to be optimized for THINKERS Notebook customers but also accessible and valuable for folks who use other notebooks too. (The debate referenced above was about how we could best achieve this shared objective.)

Because we all share this goal, the intensity of our debate was driven by coming to the best conclusion for the app, not winning an argument for our own egos.

But you and I both know it's not that simple. Humans are complicated.

Phrases like "There no 'I' in team" sound good, and reinforce an important idea, but they also ignore the reality that ego and pride are often major drivers of individual effort and desire, which are necessary for the collective group to achieve its goals.

I can say that none of us -- Sean, Daniel, or myself -- were driven by ego or winning while we debated, but is that really true? Probably not. It was in there somewhere. It just wasn't on the surface, and it wasn't in our words.

And that's the key.

When egos dominate a discussion, the debate becomes about people and identities, not ideas.

"Guys, I founded this company. It was my vision. We're going with my idea."

What if Sean had said that? He'd be right, of course; and Daniel and I wouldn't have had any recourse because it is ultimately Sean's decision. But nothing in that statement is actually a defense of the idea itself. It's just a defense of Sean's relationship to the debate.

Contrast that with what he actually said. 

"Okay fine. I'm convinced. This is the better way to do it. Now let's talk about how to implement it."

This is entirely about the idea -- even to the point of moving right into discussing implementation. 

That's what a productive team discussion is all about: ideas over identities.

No one wins if the common goal isn't achieved

Think about a basketball game that is tied in the final seconds ...

The players drink water as the head coach starts drawing up a play. Suddenly, the assistant coach who was in charge of scouting the opponent, and thus knows them intimately, suggests a different play he thinks would work.

The head coach realizes immediately that the assistant is right. 

What does the head coach do?

  • Does he ignore the assistant and stick with his own play because he is the head coach and the assistant shouldn't be undermining his authority in front of the team?
  • Or does the head coach recognize that the common goal is winning, and his most important job is to put his players in the best position to win the game, regardless of whose idea the play was?

The right answer is obvious, or at least it should be.

Some coaches would make it, other coaches wouldn't. Some coaches are good leaders, other coaches aren't.

The more that we can detach our ideas from our identities, and thus detach outcomes from our egos, the better we'll be able to lead or contribute.

This is the trait that great teams share: they can debate ideas intensely without it getting personal and without anyone caring whose idea ultimately wins out.

The leader sets the tone for this with his or her words and actions, like Sean does for us, and the other members of the team need to follow it.

Because the team wins when the best idea wins out.

Ultimately, that's what matters most.

Next up, a quick update from the THINKERS Workshop and then this week's related links.

We have three upcoming events now scheduled. If you're a member of the THINKERS Workshop, I do hope you'll consider joining us. (Click the links for more info and to RSVP.)

First, we'll have our next virtual happy hour on Thursday, September 24th at 6:00 p.m. ET.

Then we'll have two events will be centered around the book How to Think, by Alan Jacobs.

First, Mr. Jacobs will be joining me for a webinar on Wednesday, September 30th at 3:00 p.m. ET. We'll be discussing his book and his thoughts on how we can all think better in these polarized times we're living through.

Then the following week, on Wednesday, October 7th, we'll have our third meeting of the THINKERS Book Club to discuss How to Think. The first two have produced fun, insightful discussions, and I'm sure this will be no different.

Want to join the THINKERS Workshop?
The THINKERS Workshop costs $99.99 per year (or $9.99 per month) to be a member. If you own a THINKERS Notebook, then you get in free. If you haven't activated your free account, just reply to this email and let me know so I can send you the special link.
Healthy debates actually build stronger teams


Teammates want the opportunity to challenge each other. As long as discussions are respectful and everyone gets a chance to contribute equally, most people thrive on this kind of debate, finding it not only intellectually stimulating but also helpful for unearthing the best solutions.

What’s more, teams typically feel more bonded and more effective when they have challenging discussions regularly, trading a wide range of ideas and perspectives. That’s even true when those debates get a little heated. After all, this is the whole point of diversity and inclusion–it’s about bringing in people whose points of view differ in order to spark new ideas and ways of looking at things. 

Read: Your Team Members Need To Disagree More. Here’s How To Help Them (Fast Company)

Focus on maximizing your team's 'cognitive diversity'


Remember we’re all on the same team. Just about all debates fall into one of three categories: The kind where the goal is to persuade people you’re right; the kind where the goal is to look better than your opponent; and the kind where the goal is to find better solutions together. The third is the one that helps us get the most out of a group’s cognitive diversity. To steer people in that direction,  set the stage by kicking off the discussion with a shared goal, a spirit of inquiry, and emphasis that everyone is on the same team.

Watch: How to Debate Ideas Productively at Work (Harvard Business Review)

Seek truth, not personal victory


Contrary to popular belief, the most successful teams are not the ones in which team members always agree with one another. Instead, they are often characterized by healthy debate -- and at times, heated arguments. What distinguishes strong teams from dysfunctional ones is that debate doesn't cause them to fragment. Instead of becoming more isolated during tough times, these teams actually gain strength and develop cohesion.

One reason great teams are able to grow through conflict is because they have a laser-like focus on results. Top teams seek out evidence and data and try to remain as objective as possible. As a result, while people may have different views, they are united in seeking the truth. Team members can argue, but in the end, they are on the same side. In sharp contrast, failing teams tend to personalize disagreement, creating territorial divides that continue to grow.

Read: What Strong Teams Have in Common (Gallup)
Quote of the week

It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

-- Harry Truman