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Teamwork 26 September 2017

Forget the polite workplace dance and ruffle some feathers instead

One of the most beautiful sights to behold at this time of year is birds flying south for winter. As they soar through the sky in perfect synchronicity, we ask ourselves: how do they do that? How do they fly together without colliding into their neighbour mid-flight?

Studies have shown that birds have developed this majestic skill over millions of years. The instinct to veer right and to choose an altitude which complements their peers, meaning they can fly as one - but in their own spaces - has become second nature to them.

The polite workplace dance

In the workplace we too evolve our teamwork skills over time. We learn the rules of our environment and our own roles so well, that we forget to question them. We take part in a very polite workplace dance every day, where we glide around our colleagues without ever getting in each other’s way. Suzy is the expert in that field, I leave all those decisions to her. Hannah always compiles the weekly stats; I might know of a better way, but I would hate to tread on her toes. Ralph always buys doughnuts on the cake run, it doesn’t really matter that I don’t like them. I wouldn’t want to offend him or get in his way.

But, sometimes collision is good. Sometimes we need discussion and debate to find new and improved ways of doing things. If we all just continue to be polite and go through the motions to avoid conflict and collision, then we’ll never develop or discover our true team potential.

What if your ideas on how to compile the office stats could save Hannah an hour each day? What if you and Hannah could work side by side to develop a new and improved way of completing the task that would benefit the whole team? To quote the rock band Biffy Clyro: “When we collide, we come together.”

Adopt a ‘mix it up’ mindset

When we escape the “we’ve always done it that way” mindset, magical things can happen. Think about your team and the roles that you play. How could mixing things up benefit you all? By learning to question things instead of just accepting the status quo, new and exciting opportunities can arise. You might just develop a new norm that is beneficial for everyone.

Take confrontation out of the equation

Collision always comes with some sort of impact, but we don’t have to be confrontational to get our point across. Suggest, debate, challenge each other, but don’t make it negative or personal. Ask questions, lean into tough conversations and focus on the positives of learning something new during the process.

Change is a two-way street

It’s not only you who gets to provoke conversations! Be prepared to answer questions about your own way of doing things, your own processes and be brave enough to review your own methods. Be open to new suggestions, consider new ways of doing things and look at finding new paths to achieve joint goals.

Ruffle feathers with kindness

Flocking together and avoiding collision is a tempting proposition, because change can be stressful and difficult. It’s also not easy to provoke difficult conversations with people you consider teammates and even friends. But, by ruffling some feathers - with kindness and team potential as the drivers - and asking the questions that nobody else wanted to, we can get to the root of issues and develop the kind of openness and honesty that we need to fly high together.

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