Teamwork - The Difference that Makes All the Difference?

I'm naming 2016 the Year of the Team. Everywhere I look, there are teams exceeding expectations and achieving often unexpected, but outstanding, success.

Leicester City Football Club won the Premier League with no real 'big name' football stars in their ranks. Wales outclassed many so called 'better teams', by getting to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 in their first international football competition for 58 years. Tom Daley and Dan Goodfellow won Olympic Bronze last night in the 10 metre synchronised diving in Rio, against some stiff international competition. And at the weekend, the Belgian Greg Van Avermaet won Olympic gold in Rio in the Men's Cycling Road Race, despite not really being anywhere among the favourites before the race.

"Hold on", I hear you say, "an individual gold medal's not a team victory". Well, maybe not on the surface, but like so many of the teams we are all part of, there are often many people behind the scenes who contribute to achieving a success. And after Saturday's nail-biting 237.5km cycling race, I was certainly left in no doubt of the team nature of the event. I watched individual members of teams take on the bulk of the hard work at the front of the peloton, sacrificing their own race, to give other team mates the best chance of victory. I saw team support crews all along the route for over 6 hours, ready with spare wheels, much-needed drinks and essential updates on timing gaps and positions. And, most poignantly of all, I experienced the passionate reaction of two of Van Avermaet's Belgian team mates to his Olympic win. One, although not finishing the race himself, wept with unbridled joy as he embraced his winning compatriot straight after the finish line. Another crossed the line well down the field, with his arms held high, punching the air and with a beaming smile like he had just become Olympic champion himself. Clearly a real 'team victory'.

And all these somewhat unexpected team successes got me thinking. In elite sport, everyone has huge talent, trains hard, is focussed, passionate, disciplined and has a clear goal. So what's the difference that makes the difference? What moves people from good to great? What's the magic ingredient? And could great teamwork be the key to achieving more than skill, expertise and hard work alone?

Patrick Lencioni (the best-selling author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team) certainly thinks so. After many years spent working with teams in a wide variety of organisations, he firmly believes that it's "Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare".

And there is much research to back up this belief. Healthcare is a rich area for team research, and there have been numerous well-publicised studies, both in the UK and internationally. Michael West's comprehensive research in the NHS over the last 20 years or so, has found strong evidence for the huge value and significant advantage which teamwork brings. A cross-section of these studies show that where there is effective teamwork:

• Quality and safety improves
• Commitment and involvement increases
• Creativity and innovation goes up
• Learning is more effective
• Change happens more quickly, and more radically
• Patient (Customer) Experience is better

Similarly, three separate research studies by Michigan State University found that:

• Good teamwork impacted significantly on athletic performance for sportsmen and women
• A high level of internal teamwork led to increased external sales for organisations
• Innovation and impact was greater when scientific research was undertaken by teams

The arguments are compelling. In short, when people come together in truly effective teams, great things happen. Be that in sport... work... or life. And who wouldn't want to experience these things?

So what are you waiting for? Could real teamwork be the difference that makes all the difference in your organisation?



Twelve steps to heaven: successfully managing change through developing innovative teams, M.A. West, G. Hirst, A. Richter, H. Shipton. European Journal of Work and Organisational Psychology, 2004, 13(2), 269-299

Team working and effectiveness in health care: findings from the Health Care Team effectiveness project, C. Borrill, M.A. West, J. Dawson, D. Shapiro, A. Rees, A. Richards, S. Garrod, J. Carletta, A. Carter

Developing Team-based working in NHS Trusts, M.Carter, M. West, J. Dawson, J. Richardson, M. Dunckley, Aston University, November 2008