Teamwork Begins With You Knowing Your Role

There is a common misconception about the word “teamwork”. Many think it’s when co-workers run around trying to help everyone else do their job. The belief is that the person who possesses the “teamwork” gene is always there to help others and make sure the team is successful, regardless of who is doing the work and how it gets done. Folks, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee – that’s not teamwork, that’s disorganized progress.

What teamwork is truly about, is everyone doing their own job to the best of their ability and pulling together for a common goal, not the practice of being the superstar who fills in all the gaps and covers up the deficiencies of an organization. Can a quarterback throw a pass and then catch it as well? No, that’s absurd. If a keeper ran all over the pitch, trying to make every play, then who would be protecting the net? Coach Bill Parcells used to make a statement that has stuck with me for many years. He always said, “Know your role.”

I heard the stories many times of how Coach Parcells would go to a defensive lineman and say to him, “Your job this Sunday is to put number 96 on his ass. Forget about the ball, forget about the quarterback. You will be successful if on every play I look over and I see #96 on his ass.” Then the coach instructed other players in a similar fashion, providing them with their own mission that strategically fit piece by piece with the overall game plan.  The belief being, if everyone played their role and executed as instructed, the team would win. I never heard this first-hand, and I am not a football coach, but the concept has stuck with me and makes total, logical sense.

The New England Patriots have won three Super Bowls, the first being the most surprising to most. But I’m positive that Coach Bill Belichick was the least surprised, because he knew that the players understood their individual roles and that their collaboration equaled the true meaning of a team. I remember him being calm and confident the week prior to the game, and at the time I was saying to myself, “We are going to win this one. The coach knows we are going to win this game.” Of course, he didn’t actually know – but he had confidence that his team would perform with the characteristics that embodied teamwork.

So teamwork, first and foremost, is knowing your role and executing it to your fullest ability. It is getting your job done as laid out in the planning process. Then, and only then, should you attempt to take on any other duties or assist in any other way. In the case of the lineman whose job was to put 96 on his ass – sure, once 96 was eighty-sixed, then he should pummel the quarterback into the ground if he’s there for the taking. But never, and I must repeat never, avoid your primary responsibility and the reason that you are a part of the team. In business, the same is true. You have a job to do; get it done right, and in the way you have been charged to do so. If another is slacking, you are not helping by doing his job for him and hiding a weakness on the team.

In order to effectively coach, lead, or teach, it is imperative that the weaknesses in a unit are exposed. Covering up deficiencies only disguises areas that need to be improved and fixed. Filling those gaps is not teamwork if it creates other gaps and long-term problems. The consummate team player does not always pick up the slack. I remember always being frustrated when I was in radio because I worked so hard, and there were folks breezing through the process, riding on the work that I, and others, did.  At times, they were applauded and given opportunities and greater responsibilities simply because they had a knack for catching the eye of the boss. One very smart mentor once told me, “Don’t let that make you crazy; sometimes you just have to let things unravel on their own.” I always wanted to be Mr. Fix-it because I truly wanted the group to succeed. But assuming that role was only a short-term solution and was not the behavior of a true team player.

Teamwork takes discipline, knowing your role, and the role of the others on the team. But just because you know the other roles, it doesn’t mean you should act upon them. If you do help out, make damn sure your responsibilities are tended to first. And also make sure the deficient group member knows that they need to step it up, even though you did have their back. Teamwork leads to victories and successes, if you know what it truly takes to be a team.

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