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Adventure, Company Culture

Teamwork and how to work together for better results

Ed Lamb

By Ed Lamb

31 October 2018

It's nice to share:

I’ve just come back from a two-week Cricket Without Boundaries trip to Kenya, using cricket as a vehicle for talking about HIV prevention and gender equality.   It’s the second trip I’ve been on with CWB and both times the team dynamics have worked exceptionally in the most trying of circumstances (such as having to organise 600 excited children who don’t speak English as their first language and get across all our key messages while having fun!).   The teams vary in age from 18 to retirement, include all manner of professions, and have minimal preparation time.   So, I found myself thinking “why do the team dynamics work so well at CWB?” and “what can I, and Propellernet, learn from CWB?”

A relatively relaxed crowd of hundreds of Kenyan children on our arrival at one school in early October

It’s a topic that we openly discussed while we were on the trip.   By the end of week 1, it was still exciting each time we arrived at a school but it felt comfortable.   Despite only meeting most of the team a week earlier for our training weekend before our trip, and meeting our Kenyan coaches only on arrival, we had moved through Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing in just a few days!   I had total faith in our Kenyan coaching leader Niko and our team leader Sara, and I’d very quickly learnt the strengths and weaknesses of those around me.   Fortunately, there were very few weaknesses!

 

I, however, have several weaknesses – in particular, I’m not a trained coach and I’ve learnt all I know from CWB trips, so if plan A and B fail, I have less to fall back on than those that have coached cricket for many years.   That said, I also have a strength on CWB trips which is that I almost never have a preference for what activity I get involved in – I want to do the thing that others don’t want or find daunting – which means that the leader knows that they have somewhere to go if all else fails.   If someone needs to go to town on the back of a bike to get food and water for everyone I’ll do that.   If they’d like me to do the introduction to a few hundred children and pupils, I’ll do that.

 

By the end of the trip it became a running joke – when we arrived at schools and others were keenly saying “I’ll take batting!” or “I’ll take the bowling drill!” I’d hang back and see where there was a gap and fill that.   By the end of the trip, my teammates were saying “Come on Ed, tell us what you’d most like to do!”   So much so that I felt the need to say to Sara that I thought the role I was playing was a valuable one but that I was equally happy doing more leading roles if that was helpful.

 

Crucially our CWB team was a very happy one with a collective understanding that we were there to do something important.   Even though we discussed each day with a retrospective once we’d finished (over a drink) and there were sometimes things that we disagreed on, you’d never know that when we were with the children, as we came together around an important vision.   When we’re under pressure at work I’ve often reminded those around me that “we’re not building parachutes” but on the CWB trips the messages we get across can literally save lives and the importance of what we’re doing strengthens our teamwork and makes us more effective rather than consumes us with worry.

 

My teammate George’s T-shirt on our recent trip

 

How can this apply to agency success?

How to get that team-vibe where we all come together around a joint goal and take collective pleasure in team accomplishments is something that has always fascinated me.   It’s something that I’ve had varying successes with at work given the several different working environments I’ve found myself in.   It’s not something that has a one-size-fits-all answer, but I have learnt a few things from the teams I’ve played sport in both as a child and as an adult, from sports administration, from my various work teams and from my CWB trips, so I’ve made a few observations below.

 

  1. Have a singular vision that everyone buys into – pretty simple this one. CWB is the best encapsulation of this because everyone is there as a volunteer and giving up their own time and money to be involved – no one would do that unless they bought into the vision.

 

  1. Clear roles – there needs to be a leader, and when decisions need to be made they need to be made without prevarication. I remember my first agency Managing Director saying that he started life as an MD wanting decisions to be made collectively, but that ultimately, he’d understood that there are times when a decision was needed from him.   The need to avoid “groupthink” is enormous.   I suspect I underestimate the general need people feel for consensus because it’s not something that I have ever felt particularly strongly myself.   On our CWB trip I laughed when Sara suggested that we vote on something with our eyes shut, but in retrospect the human need to fit in is huge for many and not to be dismissed lightly.   Equally, if you have a team all vying for leadership positions the dynamic doesn’t work – ambition is fantastic but if everyone is vying to lead, team effectiveness breaks down.

 

  1. Spend informal time together – in a work setting I can’t emphasise this one enough. In recent years, as I and others at Propellernet have had children, that’s become ever-harder to make happen and that’s made it even more challenging to ensure we really understand what’s going on with each other inside work and outside.   On my recent CWB trip, we worked incredibly hard together but we also went out to restaurants and bars daily in the evenings.   On one particular day, we had a tough last school session and I knew my partner for that school was down.   We discussed it over a beer in the evening and I made sure she was fully supported the next day to get back on track.   That day the evening discussion we had was vital to me understanding just how much our difficult session had impacted her and helped me react and support in the right way.   On other days the evening time together just cemented our human bonds and genuine liking for each other, making us all the more supportive of each other when working with the children.

 

  1. Tackle problems quickly – we’ve all had work relationship issues that have bubbled away for an extended period of time. It doesn’t help, and the daily CWB retrospectives meant that any weaknesses were discussed and resolved rapidly – a model that our SaaS Coverage Book team have successfully used too.   Part of these potential problems is noticing and tackling “blocking” in group discussions.   This can involve unnecessary aggression (not to be mistaken for someone unaffected by group think who will put their point across firmly but calmly), the negator who is often critical of anyone else’s ideas, the withdrawer, the recognition seeker and the joker.   It was noticeable in our CWB retrospectives that just the right level of humour was injected at crucial times to diffuse any tensions and that Sara drew out comment from anyone who was quiet.

 

  1. Go above and beyond your job description – if only one or two people will do that then the team dynamics don’t work, because those who put in the extra effort to help the team will quickly begrudge the fact that others don’t do the same. Likewise, those that don’t want to put in the extra effort will start belittling those that show that extra desire to help the team achieve their goal.

 

  1. Putting the collective goal ahead of your own – individual successes are important and need to be noticed, recognised and appreciated, but it’s the collective stuff that we celebrate together that really pulls the team together.
My fantastic CWB Kenya team

 

We’re lucky that we have many of these traits within Propellernet, but there’s always further to go.   The value of the team pulling together is intangible and yet is so vital – it’s an area that I find my mind turning back to in idle moments all the time.   I don’t think I’ll ever crack it, either as a team member or as a leader, so always keen to hear your thoughts and suggestions – ed@propellernet.co.uk.