There aren’t many companies out there today that rely solely on individuals working independently. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a job interview didn’t ask a question along the lines of “tell me about a time when you had to work in a team.” It is almost second nature at this point to assume that you will be working on some sort of a team while on the job.
But how often do we really take a step back and think about how we work in a team?
Perpetual contrasting views. “Maybe we could get our projects out on time if these engineers actually knew anything about machining these parts! I swear all they do is sit behind their desks with their feet up and expect everything to be done perfectly. Oh, and to have it completed in 2 hours!” grumbles a shop manager.
“Why can’t the shop ever get anything right? The tolerances aren’t that hard to meet. How do they always manage to screw it up and delay every single project? No wonder we can never meet a deadline,” groans an engineer back in the office.
If I had a dollar for every variation of this exchange that I have witnessed while on the job, I would be lounging on the beach with a piña colada in hand, soaking up the sun, footsteps away from my mansion on a tropical island.
The disparity and lack of congruence between blue collar production workers working on the line and office workers perched at their desks is all too prevalent, and I think it’s time we try to change that.
We all come from different backgrounds. It’s no mystery that we each have our own story. Where we grew up, how we were raised, the formal education we received. But this should never be an excuse for how we treat others and our attitudes toward them.
Imagine if we only associated with and respected those individuals who had the exact same background as us. Not only would that be near impossible, considering the multitude of differences that can exist between two people, but it would also be toxic for any kind of group activity, work included.
I am by no means perfect when it comes to putting myself in other people’s shoes. But trust me when I say a little bit of empathy goes a long way in the workplace. And in life! The ability to take a step back and consider that this person you’re interacting with could have had a completely different upbringing than you is something that I think we should all strive to do.
You wouldn’t want a football team will all quarterbacks. I know that everyone has heard the phrase that there’s no I in team, but I want to bring forth another analogy.
Whether you’re hanging out at a sports bar drinking beer with your friends anxiously waiting for the fantasy draft to go live, or you’re the head coach of the New England Patriots, one thing is certain. You are not going to be successful by drafting an entire football team of quarterbacks. You need those hefty linebackers, the superstitious kickers, the deceptive running backs, the towering and agile wide receivers, and yes, someone to throw the ball, the quarterback. It is the culmination and strategic alignment of all these different skills that make a team just that, a team.
This could not hold more true in the workplace. We do ourselves a disservice by maintaining the illusion that “if they just knew what I know, if they were just like me, then we wouldn’t have any problems!” This is simply not the case. No single person knows everything, and we must rely on our colleagues to fill in the gaps. Whether that be relying on their past experience and knowledge, or working together with them to find the solution to a problem.
A company comprised of identically-skilled workers probably isn’t going to prosper very much, if at all. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of startups out there whose origins were a mere handful of like-minded, similarly educated individuals. But in the long run, as they grow in size and expectations, a diverse staff with specific areas of expertise that can bridge the gap into a successful cross functional team will always be key.
If I don’t know something, teach me. Don’t belittle me. Admittedly, this one touches me on a personal level. As a young female in mechanical engineering, a well known technical and male dominated field, I’ve taken my fair share of unpleasant remarks from coworkers. Age and gender aside, I’m sure everyone has had experiences where their competence has been called into question.
Anger, frustration, and lack of patience may lead someone to, intentionally or not, demean or degrade you for not knowing something on the job. Consider these exchanges.
Shop worker: “You’re a fancy, smart engineer, didn’t they teach you this in school?”
Engineer: “Oh whatever, just finish the job and do it right. Any monkey can turn a wrench. You could never do the job I have.”
Shop worker: “I have a question on this drawing, are you familiar with GD&T for bolt patterns?”
Engineer: “No, I’m actually not very familiar with that. I would love to learn from you if you have time today.”
Shop worker: “Absolutely, come over to the CNC and I’ll show you how the datum selection affects the layout.”
Engineer: “Great, and I’ll pull up my CAD models so you can see why I made that design decision.”
See the difference? Not only are both parties refraining from belittling each other, but they are learning from each other, too. These sorts of interactions are crucial to building respect, trust, and overall, a better team dynamic.
So where do we go from here? Teamwork in the workplace is something I constantly see being overlooked. Between sending emails, scheduling meetings, and everything in between, how we interact with one another seems to be the last thing on anyone’s mind.
So before you even grab that cup of coffee from the break room tomorrow morning, go ahead and try to remind yourself this: a team is composed of individuals with unique skill sets all working toward a common goal. And the more we embrace our differences and recognize the value we each add, the more successful our team will be in achieving that goal.