Why relations beat skills in teamwork

Why relations beat skills in teamwork

By Line Bloch, 18. December 2015

A few weeks ago, my 14 year-old had a week of project-work, where he, together with three other kids from his class, should deliver a presentation and some papers on a given topic.  They only had this one week to prepare, execute and complete it and it had to be presented for the teachers and the rest of the class, the week after.

Though my kid is quite smart (his mum says), project work is not his preferred way of working, and not one of his key competencies.

The teachers at the school say the thing I guess teachers say to every kid, and that my teachers even said to me and my friends back in the 80’s – and I’ll bet that you have heard it too:

It is very important that you learn how to do project work, and it is just as important that you learn to work together with every kind of people – even those that you may not really like.

In high school and at the universities, project work is common. Also when you get a job sometime, everything is done in teams, and you cannot expect to choose who to team up with. They just put you together with someone and expect that you deliver. This is why you HAVE to learn this, even if you don’t like it.

And it is true. This is what is going on in many organizations. We have the teams ready when the tasks come in. We may – if we are lucky and have enough available resources – be able to pick the ones with the skills we need to do the job, but if we don’t have a project organization, the teams are pretty much given. Any new employees are usually hired based on skills, put into the existing team, and asked to start working.

We don’t expect people to love each other, but a as general rule we expect them to act professionally, and if you don’t really like Jim, or is annoyed with Joanna, please let it go and think of the project. Or the next pay-check.

What motivates you the most?

Now, try to think back on the last time, you did something together with someone that you would never choose to spend time with outside of work. Someone that you may know is skilled, but apart from that don’t really care about – or who is not really your preferred cup of tea.

And then think of the last time you did something, with someone with whom you have a really good relation, and where you – together with achieving great results – had great fun.

What project got the best out of you? Where were you most motivated?

In the team where you had good relations with your team members, right? The organisation got most out of you, when you worked with someone that you trusted, liked and respected. And where you were having fun while working hard.

Relations do beat skills

Teams build on relations do work faster, smarter, and delivers higher quality – and why? Because the team members understand each other more easily. They trust and support each other, and know that it is ok to make mistakes. They don’t need to spend much time ‘translating’ what the others do and why, and therefore avoid escalating conflicts when disagreements occur. They share a mutual respect that creates a strong commitment to each other.

This is why things are changing, and why teams in future organizations will be based on relations, not skills.

The future oriented organization and leader should facilitate employees building strong relations across the organization – and not only within the silos – to support this development. Get help by technologies like Yammer, Slack, video conferencing etc., but also by workplace design and good old-fashion team building activities.

My kid?

His team spend two days in my kitchen, using the cupboards as a Kanban board. When I asked him about it, he explained the process and said: Did you notice that it was a mix of serious thing and fun things, like that we had to eat Nachos?

Then they moved on to doing interviews, making presentations and writing their stuff somewhere else, and ended up presenting the work with so much surplus and confidence, that they got a 12 – the highest grade.

And why? Because besides from being four skilled students, they had strong relations beforehand. The teachers knew that; and even if they said that the students had to learn to work with someone they don’t really enjoy working with, this particular team was not coincidental, it was created to succeed based on their relations. These kids did already like and respect each other – and they had fun. They managed to create a room of trust, and got the strengths of all of them to shine through.

It works with 14-year olds, and it works with you and your employees: Relations beat skills.

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