Beyond the Build

Team Building

Teamwork: Moving Past the Cliche

If I were to rank overused words in business today, “sustainability” would be at the top of my list. “Teamwork” is close behind, only because most do not walk the walk. In fact, I think sometimes “teamwork” has become so cliche that it has lost meaning.

So what is teamwork?

Ten years ago, I took a group of Boy Scouts on a 12-night hiking trek to the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. During the course of those 12 days, my tent partner and I would set up our tent every evening. The first 2 or 3 nights it seems like we talked a lot to ensure we knew our roles to get the tent erected properly. After about the fourth night, we quit talking because we both knew what the left hand and the right hand were doing. We erected the tent in half the time, seamlessly.

People will talk about teamwork, shaking hands and patting each other on the back. They will say, “This is my team member.” Perhaps they will qualify the statement with “external team member” or “internal  team member.” To me, without to the core belief, it does not count. Teamwork is developed and earned over time.

Over the years, I have created the following checklist. True team members:

1. Surrender their borders to each other.

2. Work together unconditionally, expecting to do more than their fair share.

3. Have their eyes on mutual goals, are unselfish and willing to share.

4. Share the praise and take the hits when they make mistakes. (This is easier said then done.)

5. Huddle together in the face of adversity rather than scatter.

To me, these five characteristics define true teamwork. The bonds strengthen with trust and time.

When you say you are “working as a team” are you meeting this definition or simply using a popular term?


Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.