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How to build a successful team?

Updated: May 3

Does the whole always add up to more than the sum of its parts?Or does the whole lead to a decline in individual productivity?

Teamwork is the ability to recognise individual differences, unite them with common principles, and enhance the process of achieving a common goal. There have been many examples of great teams and teamwork in sporting history; The Lionesses winning the European Championships, bringing home England's first major trophy since the men's World Cup win in 1966. Or in Formula One, Mercedes' impressive winning streak after signing with Lewis Hamilton in 2013 and going on to win seven consecutive Constructors Championships (2014-2020); quite the turnaround given their last win was in 1955.

As shown by the likes of the Lionesses and Mercedes, the concept of teamwork is essential to success. Although it is mostly associated with sports, there are many parallels that can be drawn upon and used in the business world. I have been part of some great teams. I learned to row at Oxford Brookes University in 2012, and three years later, I earned my first British Rowing vest. In 2016, I rowed for Sydney Rowing Club before returning to Oxford Brookes University in 2017 to study an MSc in Psychology. For the past five years, I have been training and racing with both the British Rowing Team and Leander Club.

Throughout my rowing career, I have witnessed firsthand the importance of teamwork and how it breeds success. Some of the best teams I have been part of, particularly in my early rowing days, on paper should not have achieved what they did. I don't believe it was luck. I believe we achieved what we did because of how we operated as a team. For instance, in 2016, we were the first student crew at Oxford Brookes University to qualify for the Remenham Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta, an international event where all other teams were international. We were the underdogs, and I truly believe we were able to rise to the challenge and qualify for the event due to how we worked as a team.

There are many theories and ideas behind what creates a good team. In my experience, I believe a good team comes down to three main principles: being non- judgmental, showing vulnerability, and understanding your role.

It is easy to throw this terminology around with the hope that a good team may arise through talking. The reality is, if you want to be part of a well-functioning team, you have to really believe in what you value and put this into practice every day. Here is how I believe these three principles can be implemented day-to-day, across any team, in any environment.

1). Non-Judgmental: To be non-judgmental, you need to be present in the moment and subsequently see thoughts as just thoughts. They are not facts, and there is no value or truth attached to them. A non-judgmental approach in a team increases self- confidence, along with a greater understanding of each other, and as a result, a higher functioning, more successful team. Non-judgmental behaviours can come in a variety of forms, ranging from something as simple as not judging the clothes a team member wears to the performance a team member has produced. When looking back at successful teams I have been part of, I feel I am valued for everything I am rather than judged for everything I am not.

2). Vulnerability: By showing individual vulnerability, it encourages other team members to be open and honest. Whether this be something a team member finds challenging (for example, a new project), a mistake that needs addressing, or perhaps an anxious or nervous thought. Being open to vulnerability is how we learn about our team members, and overcoming vulnerable moments is how we unite. Embracing this shows strength and integrity. It is brave and courageous, so why wouldn't we show our vulnerable side?

3). Understand your role: Within any team, every member will inevitably have different strengths, weaknesses and experiences. Try to view a team member's strength as a compliment to your weakness, rather than a threat to your individual success. I was once asked, 'Would you rather be a team of experts or an expert team?' Of course, the answer was an expert team. Using rowing as an example, within a boat there will be some rowers who are more technical, some with greater physicality, and some with a more natural rhythm. Although it is important to play to your individual strengths while improving your weaknesses, when united and well executed, these differences create an expert team and subsequently bring success.

Ultimately, you can't tell teamwork. You have to believe it, breathe it, and immerse yourself in it in order to be greater than the sum of your parts. As they say, actions really do speak far louder than words!


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