Teamwork: From the Playground to the Boardroom

We’ve all heard of Robert Fulgham’s book “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten.”  I didn’t fully understand this phrase until I became a parent.  And as an HR Professional, I am particularly intrigued by the parallels between children’s play and the workplace.  So much of what we have learned at a young age is very applicable to adulthood and thriving at work.  After all, play is a child’s work to prepare them for life.

My husband and I took our kids camping for the first time last weekend and thankfully, they loved it!  Although short, it was a wonderful two days of living outside, free from technology, enjoying the sun and nature.  When I walked with the kids over to the playground on the campsite, we entered their world… a world where kids roam free, use their imagination, and make up all the rules.  It reminded me of the book “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak.

I sat on the park bench and observed children of all ages and backgrounds, whom had never met before, begin the social construction of a game together.  I was fascinated with the way they made up the rules, assigned roles, and decided what was fair (and what wasn’t of course!)  Moreover, what really impressed me was the way they did this so quickly.  A few children came up with some rules; a couple decided if a rule was fair or not; another ensured everyone was included; another older child looked out for safety; and yet another ensured everyone had their turn being “it”.  It was amazing, and all done with no adult intervention.

Then after a good amount of blissful play and several new kids joining in, the game fell apart, just like that.

I shouldn’t have been surprised.  As the group grew, I saw that more and more rules were being added, and kids were becoming frustrated or left out.

This led me to think about teams at work and teams that I have personally been a part of.  What role or roles have I taken on?  Were roles in the workplace similar to the roles I observed on the playground?  Were roles different depending on the team?  Area of expertise?  What about the personalities of the other members of the team?  How did those come into play?

Today’s workplace includes formal teams, dispersed teams, and virtual teams of all different sizes.  More and more team members do not sit at the same location due to geographical reach and telecommuting.  This led me to review some of the research I have come across regarding effective teamwork, beginning with team composition, size, and roles. Here are a few key points:

  • Good team players have a few things in common: strong communication skills, high emotional intelligence, and a sense of accountability. If teamwork is necessary at your organization, hire for the appropriate competencies and characteristics.
  • To maximize group performance, smaller groups are better. Research shows that team members from larger groups reduce effort when they feel less responsible for output  (Ferrazzi, 2014).  Virtual teams specifically perform best when they are fewer than 10 members (Ferrazzi, 2014).
  • When projects require efforts of multiple departments or areas of expertise, to avoid large groups, devise sub-teams with clear goals.
  • Researcher R. Meredith Belbin came up with nine team roles after he observed the behavioural tendencies of individuals within a group. The roles are grouped into three categories, namely Action-Oriented Roles (Shapers, Implementers, Finishers); People-Oriented Roles (Coordinators, Team Workers, Resources Investigators); and Thought-Oriented Roles (Monitor-Evaluators, Specialists, Plants) (Merchant, 2017).

This is just the beginning.  In my next blog, I will discuss communication, goal setting, and leadership on teams.  Stay tuned!

Your Leadership Exercise:

Review the “health” of your teams:

  • Do they communicate effectively?
  • Are all members contributing?
  • Are they achieving maximum performance?

If not, it’s time to explore why.  Begin with examining the make-up of the team, its size, and the roles allotted to each team member.

Need help?  Adriana is a certified Emotional Intelligence Coach and Trainer.  She uses the EQi 2.0 instrument to support the awareness, understanding and development of emotional intelligence in individuals and groups.  Emotional Intelligence is necessary for managing emotions at work, developing effective relationships, making decisions, and dealing with difficult people, just to name a few of the benefits.  Please visit LINK HR Emotional Intelligence Coaching & Training for more information on our Coaching and Training Packages.


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