I have been working with teams since my primary school days. From football teams in Chirimba, Blantyre, Malawi to a Multinational Chevening Debate team in London, United Kingdom. I have worked in multicultural teams and managing the team dynamics is one thing I am yet to master. Working with teams composed of people from different countries, continents, religion etc. you get to learn a great deal about how to manage team dynamics. You learn never to take anything for granted. When, I saw a book on teamwork, I felt, I need to read this book to learn more about team work and how I can work better in teams. Therefore, in this series of blogs, I will share my reflections on John C Maxwell’s, 17 Indisputable Laws of Team work . I will be using my experience to relate with the concepts shared in this book.
The law of significance
I have had my fair share of successes and failure because I decided to work with teams, and also decided to go at it alone. Working with a team and dealing with team dynamics can be unpleasant and doing things alone can be easy. This is where the saying by Napoleon Bonaparte rings true ‘If you want a thing done well, do it yourself.’ But how many times have you been exhausted because of following the advice of Napoleon Bonaparte? How about stress, exhaustion and the quality of work when done alone? How about sustainability?
I am blessed with various skills and gifts, and I keep adding new skills in my life. I do not just learn the skills, I master the skills. However, life is teaching me that the skills I am acquiring are there to help me be a better team member, than being a lone ranger. The skills are to help me appreciate the work of other team members, understand their challenges when we are part of the team and set realistic expectations.
I know that I am not the only one who is driven to be a lone ranger, at times. Maxwell writes that our decisions are mainly driven by ego, insecurity, being naïve and temperament. I am guilty as charged. Yes! We don’t want to build a team or work with a team because at the end we are concerned with who is going to take the glory at the end of the day. Who is going to be the face of success? Who is going to use the work that we have done to scoop the awards, fellowships or scholarships? In the course of our ego, we loose focus on the main thing, the change that we would like to see, and how the team will help us get to our destination. But if we go passed the ego, insecurity, being naïve and temperament, it becomes clear why we need to work with teams. We understand that we cannot achieve much as a lone ranger.
The law of the Big Picture
A few weeks ago, my friend (name withheld) and I met to discuss the possibilities of working on a joint project to provide career guidance and counselling in secondary schools in Malawi. The talk went really well. We both saw the value of working together on this project looking at the possible strengths that each one of our teams brought to the table. As the discussions progress a few days after, the talk changed from merging of programs to merging of organizations. I will not lie, I took more time contemplating on the merger than I did for the joint programme. My thoughts were mainly along the lines of power and roles, and not necessarily the vision and the goal. Who is going to be holding which position? What happens when we get funding? Who is going to be reporting to who? How about the branding and mileage we have covered the past months and years? What happens to the co-founders of our two organizations? The questions were mainly focused on: What’s in it for me?
In my mind, I was looking at what could possibly go wrong with the merger. Until when my friend and I attended a coaching session where the following words were uttered ‘do not focus on the role, focus on the goal. What can you achieve as a single unit versus separate units? What change are you likely to bring if you combined your forces and work on this’ This is the same principle that John C. Maxwell captures in this book. Maxwell writes, ‘In a culture that sings the praises of individual gold medals and where a person fights for rights instead of focusing on taking responsibility, people tend to lose sight of the big picture (Maxwell, 2001, p. 17).’ I am glad that I managed to get this wisdom and that there is also a book that captures this topic. The merger has not gone through yet, but I believe with this guidance on the goal and not the role, they will be great progress.
The law of Niche
‘When the right team member is in the right place, everyone benefits’- (Maxwell, 2001, p. 32). In 2014 I was voted to be the founding National Coordinator for Youth to Youth Empowerment(Y2YE) to lead a team of 54 volunteers across the country. In 2016, I co-founded Maphunziro265, which allows me to lead a team of more than 40 ambassadors across Malawi. My biggest challenge in these two initiatives has not been getting people on board. The challenges have been :1) getting the right people on board; 2) getting the right people to serve in their areas of their gifting. This has mainly been because I was blind to the gifts that the people possessed, therefore I was more focused on a structure, and throwing people into teams to fill a structure. It has also been because some of the people who have joined the team, did not yet discover their niche. I am sure, I am not the only leader who has been struggling with these two challenges. In this book, Maxwell, provides practical ways that team leaders can build teams with the right people, working in the right areas of experience, skills, temperament, attitude, passion, discipline, emotional strength and potential. Maxwell suggests a three-step process for leaders to make sure that members of the team are serving in their places of giftings: 1) You must know the vision, purpose, culture and history of the team. 2) You must know the situation. 3) You must know the player. I have tried to work with some of the steps, I must say this process takes time. However, the time that you spend is worth it.
Maxwell, J. C. (2001). The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork. Georgia: Thomas Nelson.