Like A Team

A Resource for Christian Leadership Development and Teamwork

Dare To Be A Team

To Be A Team

How Do You Dare To Be A Team?

The teamwork era is here in full force.  Has it arrived in your organization?  Non-profits of every size and pedigree are striving today to team up employees for heightened productivity, better customer relations and simplified structure (“downsizing”).  In just a short time, teamwork has become the rallying cry for progressive organizations and their training initiatives.

But is teamwork really all it’s cracked up to be–more than just the latest management phase/craze?  Can every company benefit from teamwork?

Like everything else in life, the potential benefits of teamwork depend on people’s attitude and effort.  How willing are you to pay the price extracted by teamwork?  Do the gains outweigh the pains?  Does your organization DARE to undertake teamwork?


Teamwork has a special alchemy consisting of four ingredients:

D ependency
A ccountability
R eward
E mpowerment

Daring to develop teamwork means daring to change not only how work is done, but also reshaping the organization culture (attitudes, work habits, how people interact, etc.).  In return for daring to change its way of life, the organization can gain a new lease on work life.  The first dare starts with increasing interpersonal dependency.


Where people have a choice about whether or not to interact, teamwork doesn’t exist.  Merely associating, or cooperating, with co-workers does not necessarily qualify as teamwork.  People meld into a team when they have to depend on each other–like mountaineers scaling a cliff roped together.  If one falls, they all fall!

Groups become teams when mutual dependencies are systematically built into the daily work flow.  Revolutionary management developments, such as TQM (total quality management) and just-in-time inventory, are designed to do just that:  To make teamwork happen instead of waiting for it to happen.

But much can be done to build interdependency, even in the absence of a radical organizational makeover like TQM or downsizing.  For example, employees can cross-train to promote the efficiencies of job rotation.  Experiencing a breadth of jobs allows colleagues to smoothly fill in for one another, to troubleshoot operating problems and to neutralize many job stress points.

Information sharing also strengthensteam interdependency.  Setting up an operations data base, generally computerized, keeps team members in touch with vital performance realities like inventory levels, status of the budget, progress toward deadlines and incidence of brush fires. Information cross fire ignites interdependent interaction in two key ways: Colleagues must interact to generate and update information; and “chewing” on information nurtures collaboration.

Even old fashioned participative management promotes workplace interdependency as colleagues consult with one another before important decisions are made. This promotes the “we’re all in this together” attitude so infectious to team spirit.

Promoting teamwork requires leaders who dare to confront the fears people inevitably experience when they must increasingly rely on each other. Some fear loss of autonomy, others loss of control. Still others fear the potential for personal failure on the team. Everyone fears the unknown that accompanies true teamwork.

The way to deal with teamwork fears is contained in the teamwork process itself. Most employees of hierarchical companies are so accustomed to the insecurity of going it alone, they fail to appreciate the security that comes from partnering with others. Teams capitalize on people’s unique strengths and empower them to excel at what they do best. Your strengths can balance out my weaknesses and vice versa. Each of us can carve out a niche on the team yielding a sense of unique identity and security.

The Dependency DARE

Do the members of your team dare to:

  • Give up their independence in favor of working together?
  • Cross-train and rotate jobs?
  • Share information freely?
  • Pick a niche for themselves?
  • Complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • Put the team ahead of personal pursuits?


The word accountability, with its connotation ofbureaucratic finger pointing, makes the average person nervous. But this mindset merely reflects another common misunderstanding of the true nature of teamwork. When someone works independent/autonomously, accountability means shouldering the blame forfailure–going out on the proverbial limb to perform. That’s something to be nervous about! Your accountability as a team member is wrapped up in faithfully fulfilling your particular niche on the team. You’re accountable for helping your colleagues succeed, just as they work in your behalf. Accountability is to one another, not to lone ranger success.

Furthermore, each team is accountable to the constituents it exists to serve. Some of these constituents are internal, such as other departments which use the outputs of your team (for example, processed parts or information) as their inputs. All teams in the organization are accountable to external constituents, especially the customers/clients of your company and the local community. This is why it is so important for everyone in the organization to be mission-driven. Satisfying constituent needs takes precedent and priority over “business as usual.”

In the final analysis, the team concept of accountability means that the organization’s mission is your team’s mission. Your mission is to help your team help the organization to succeed.

The Accountability DARE

Do the members of your team dare to:

  • Cooperate rather than compete with each other?
  • Put the larger mission ahead of personal interests?
  • Define job success by service rendered to others rather than personal performance?
  • Make sacrifices on behalf of constituents?
  • Patiently cooperate with other departments?
  • Abandon the business as usual mentality?


Everyone loves to be on a winning team–it can be an exhilarating experience. However, we live in a culture where people like to take credit forsuccess more than give credit. That’s tough on teamwork. Teams need members who are content to stand in the team’s shadow rather than in the spotlight.

The rewards of team membership often go unrecognized in our individualistic culture, but those who are willing to sublimate themselves in the larger team entity experience rich returns–the kind that make it worth coming to work every day.

Only in a team environment are our four deepest human needs met, which can be expressed as the four “I ams” of teamwork:

  1. I am needed
  2. I am unique
  3. I am productive and
  4. I am appreciated.

Our multifaceted contributions to the team help us define who we are, why we’re worthwhile and how our work is meaningful. These needs lie at the very core of what motivates us and they bond us to the organization.

This explains the powerful pull of sports teams, social clubs and even street gangs. Their members gain a sense of identity and acceptance in return for their loyalty to the team.

People will work hard for their team, even to the point of personal sacrifice. Thus, the rewards of teamwork extend to the whole organization–if management dares to go beyond the traditional rewards of money, perks and status which often promotemaverick individualism. Leaders must strive to deliver the psychological rewards of teamwork along with fair pay and financial benefits. This requires an empowering organization culture.

The Reward DARE

Do the members of your team dare to:

  • Give credit more than they take credit?
  • Help other members feel needed, unique, productive and appreciated?
  • Rely on the team for part of their self-identity?
  • Bond to the organization?
  • Accept psychological rewards as an important part of their overall compensation?


Teams thrive on self-directed members who have been empowered to make decisions, troubleshoot problems, initiate change, and experiment with creative ideas. Empowerment is high octane fuel.

The organization must dare to trust its employees enough to let them manage themselves in teams. Employees earn that trust by internalizing the goals and mission of their company. They dare to put their career welfare in the hands of the team.

Empowered teams share in power, but also inresponsibility, for results. Hard work and cooperation are no guarantees of successful team performance. Team leaders and members must dare to innovate, take risks and pursue continuous training in order to ensure breakthrough performance. Daring teams never settle for mediocrity, conformity or business as usual. They break out of their self-imposed comfort zone.

The Empowerment DARE

Do the members of your team dare to:

  • Share the responsibility that comes with power?
  • Innovate, take risks and be creative?
  • Break out of their comfort zone?
  • Perceive change as an opportunity rather than a threat?
  • Put their career welfare in the hands of the team?


Teamwork is not for everyone or every organization. Very real costs and sacrifices are involved. Failure is possible. But the payoffs and byproducts of teamwork have awesome potential–like a vein of gold that can be mined and mined. Teams unleash the creative power of people and make them feel good about themselves.

Should your service team opt for teams or not? Tipping the scale in favor of teamwork is one decisive factor: imagination. Can people imagine themselves being more productive, more innovative and more self-managed? Can they imagine themselves deriving a sense of professional identity from the team and enjoyingwork more? Can they imagine greater success for their organization? It’s amazing what a little imagination and teamwork can do!

Phil Van Auken

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