Why relations beat skills in teamwork

By Line Bloch, 18. December 2015

Why it’s important to learn about teamwork – and relations

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. 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 paycheck.

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 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.