The Importance Of Cooperation To Teamwork

“It is through cooperation, rather than conflict, that your greatest successes will be derived.” Ralph Chavell

Author John C. Maxwell says, “Teamwork makes the dream work.” I believe that.

But as I mentioned in last week’s “Tuesday Tip,” a lot of people do not know HOW to build a highly effective team. So I referred to Laser Quest’s 4 pillars of teamwork: Communication, Cooperation, Trust, and Fun. I wrote about communication in the last issue.

(P. S., If you’ve never played Laser Quest, I’d suggest you give it a try. My wife and I were initially skeptical — after all, adults playing a game of hide and seek, lasers and lights. But we had a blast and learned a great deal at the same time.)

But let’s explore the second pillar of teamwork today — COOPERATION. It’s got to be a part of any team that ever hopes to be successful. So what does it mean? And how do you get it?

=> 1. Cooperation Means Working Together … For Everyone’s Benefit.

In other words, no one has to lose for you to win. And yet I see just the opposite in so many organizations. There is more strife within the organization and amongst the members than there is from the outside. That is NEVER a sign of healthy teamwork.

You might take a look at your own team to see if it passes the first test. Is EVERYONE working together?

For example, when a third grade class was asked to name two famous brothers who made it possible for man to fly, one child replied, “Ernest and Julio Gallo.” They obviously worked together … but I’m not sure for everyone’s benefit.

Likewise, I remember one person saying that he bought a dog that was a cross between a pit bull and a Labrador retriever. At least, he says, if he bites my leg off, he’ll bring it back to me. Again, that may be working together … but not for everyone’s benefit.

In a healthy team, you realize that everything is connected. Success depends on your ability to create interpersonal partnerships where everyone takes responsibility for positive results.

=> 2. Cooperation Also Means Taking Turns.

Janet Stetson of Conneautville, Pennsylvania wrote, “The two most important ingredients to get along in this world are two things that you learned on the playground — sharing and taking turns.”

Effective teams take time to take turns — to learn from each other. Ineffective teams are too “busy” for that “touchy-feely stuff.” After all, they have their work to do and can’t waste their time on “connecting” with other team members. It’s a BIG mistake.

In fact, if you haven’t asked each of your other team members about his/her greatest learning in the last year, you’ve lost out on a lot. You may never have the advantage of knowing what made such a big difference in someone else’s job or life. And you may even have to learn the same lesson the hard way.

You see, so many of the answers that you need in life, at work, and at home are “out there.” But you and your team members may not be “out there” taking turns in asking those kinds of questions. That’s why I recommend my book on “Brave Questions: How To Build Stronger Relationships By Asking All The Right Questions.” It will transform your team if you ask one or two questions every time you meet. And the book gives you 400 questions great questions to choose from.

=> 3. Cooperation Means Helping Each Other Out.

In other words, in healthy teams, you don’t hear such comments as, “That’s not my job… That’s her responsibility… or… I just work here.” You hear comments along the lines of “Yes, I’d be glad to help you… What can I do for you?… and… Is there anything else that you need?” There is an actual helping of one another rather than a passing of the buck.

It’s not like the one man I heard about. He called the fire department to report a fire in his garage. The fireman asked, “Did you pour water on it?” The man replied, “Yes,” to which the fireman said, “Well, there’s no sense in us coming over because that’s all we’d do.”

Do you see the members of your team helping each other out? I hope so.

If you saw the recent movie, “The March of the Penguins,” you saw an excellent illustration of this. When a fairy penguin — a tiny, defenseless thing of only a few pounds — was about to be attacked by a predator, it let out a cry, and several other penguins swam ashore to help him. Like a beacon, the squeal prompted the other fairy penguins to come in from the sea. Then the raucous chorus of birds began waddling toward their nesting area.

The predator didn’t know that the birds always made their journey together — never alone. To be safe, they had to stay together. They had to travel from their hunting grounds to their colony as a team. They knew that “birds of a feather flock together.”

When you think about it, every great achievement came as a result of people helping people. If a single researcher in a lone laboratory makes a monumental discovery, it was probably based on the contributions of hundreds of other discoveries and publications made by other researchers. Even the lone musician on stage was inspired and taught by countless others.

Erik Weihenmayer talked about that when he arrived on the summit of Mt. Everest on May 25, 2001. He conquered the world’s highest mountain as one member of a team of nineteen hardy, determined souls. The one difference between Erik, and his team members and all the other people who have climbed the mountain over the years, however, was the fact that Erik became the first blind person to achieve this feat.

In a CNN interview on the afternoon of his success, Erik spoke of “team accomplishment.” He talked about his sponsors, the people who were on the mountain with him, and the many who were not there but had prayed for him. “I felt like, when I got to the top, I was on the shoulders of lots and lots of people. It wasn’t just me standing there.”

Action: Listen to the way people talk in your group or team. Do you hear more “We” or “Me?” Do you here more comments showing a willingness to help, or do you see people holding back, hoping somebody else will do it?

If you’re hearing and seeing more of the latter, you need to have a meeting to talk about that very issue. You need to discuss how you are going to get past this roadblock.