Part 4: Roles and Teamwork

The Army is really big on teamwork and team development so this topic is one of my favorites. In essence I want to discuss: What I do, you do, we do, they do in the family and at work. Not everyone will immediately jump onboard but if you stick with me I bet this topic will provide some insight and provoke thought you have not considered before.

My earliest recollections include doing chores with my older sister and my mother’s step children. Did you notice I did not say my step brother and step sister? There is obviously something there that needs resolution and could be an entirely different post, but let’s get back on track.

Growing up we all had chores. The “I do” chores were things like folding our own clothes or hanging them up. The “We do” chores included things like tag teaming the dishes or doing yard work. The “You do” chores were things specific to one person that other people did not have to do such as cooking. Mom did almost all of the cooking and my step dad did the farming. I always hated having to do chores back then.

Flash forward six to 8 years and now I am in the Army. Everything is about teamwork. I hated it as a child and even more so as a new recruit because I always felt like I could get my fair share done quickly but would always be forced to continue working to help someone else out. Maybe I thought it would have been better to work hard for half of a day and then be off for the rest of the day but in the Army that really didn’t happen.

So here I am trying to show how important teamwork and roles are but so far all I have done is whined about my early life experiences. Well that is about to change. I never really understood it at the time, and no one ever explained it to me to me but looking back I realized something amazing. I realize now that I love to be the leader and that more often than not means being first. As a competitive guy that is very cool. I also realized not so long ago that I love teaching people cool things, especially innovative ways to make problems go away. Wow…if I had only known that as a teen or young Soldier, I think I would have been a much happier person.

OK, so let’s talk about roles and then get back into teamwork. First of all there really can’t be more than one leader at any given time. Sure, there can be a team of managers, but they are only leading their specific group. They have a boss in most cases who is their leader. That being said you should know already if leadership is your thing. If you like being in charge, then be prepared to work longer but not necessarily harder than everyone else. If you aren’t a leader then you are probably a follower, which is just as important. Being a good follower is actually a skill that the Army teaches even its greatest leaders. It is true. Soldiers often rotate in and out of leadership positions and spend the bulk of their time trying to help someone else get something important done.

Consider this. In a traditional family the father is the provider. He works to bring home the bacon so to speak. The mother is the caregiver. She watches over and teaches the children. The kids…well they tend to be manual labor for the most part but they also provide love and in some cases, entertainment for the parents. Everyone has a role and as long as these roles are properly filled, the team concept can work.

Obviously, we have many families in America that do not follow traditional role systems. A lot of time the mother is the provider and the caregiver. Wow…that is a lot to put on one person. In some cases the roles are reversed which leave the father as the caregiver and the mother as the provider. For the purposes of this discussion it really doesn’t matter WHO fills the role as long as SOMEONE fills it.

Enter the concept of TEAMWORK. Let’s say mom is working a double shift and doesn’t make it home in time to cook and care for the kids? Who does it in a single mom situation? Well, the oldest child might or perhaps a grandparent. Someone has to step up or the family system begins to fall apart. What happens at work when something like this happens? Let’s say for example the English teacher gets sick. Hopefully a substitute teacher can be called in to fill the gap. Seems pretty simple, right? Well let’s look a little closer.

How does it make the oldest child feel to have to do their own chores and do some of the work on mom’s list? I would guess it is frustrating or even overwhelming. How does the mom feel (in a traditional family system) when the kids fail to do their chores and she has to do them? Again, I would say frustrated and overwhelmed. These things are consistent in corporate and small business as well as in government…especially the military. Nothing is worse than having a slacker in your midst. Everyone else ends up doing more to pull the slacker along right? We MUST get beyond these feelings in order to really get that teamwork thing working for us.
Enter the leader, teacher, mentor, or helper. The most amazing thing I have ever witnesses is the effect of just one person doing more than their fair share because they wanted to. Now you are thinking – What…who would want to do more work? That is just unfair.

Well maybe not. I propose that once we find out HOW we like to help, teamwork becomes very powerful as a tool in getting things done!
I said I love to teach. I know this about myself as a Soldier, as a martial arts instructor, and a personal coach/mentor. How do I know? I am willing to spend my free time, often with no reward (financial or otherwise) teaching cool ways to get things done. Are you a teacher? Do you like showing people how to do things better, faster, and more professionally? Do you like to see the proverbial light bulb come on? Keep this in mind for a minute and we will come back to it.

Second only to teaching I love to be a hero. This isn’t exactly altruism because there is a reward for my efforts in most cases. Sometimes it is a few simple words of appreciation and other times it is something as cool as a new nickname. Picture for a moment, that you have a task. Let’s say it is shining boots (one of the most boring of all old school Army tasks). What happens when you get done first and have highly polished boots for everyone to see. Well first of all you have satisfaction of doing a good job. Everyone oohhs and aahhhs. You also get at least one or two people who immediately beg you to show them your technique. This is called expert power. Most people like to feel like they have superior skills that others want to learn. If you are super fast, maybe you even earn a nickname like SPEEDY. This happens a lot in the Army. Lastly, you have the opportunity to help that one guy who is really struggling. If you can teach that person your technique then you can really be a hero. They will love you for it and the reward is really worth the effort.

Here is the bottom line. In the family, everyone has a role but a family that understands teamwork and the benefits of helping each other will be closer and more interdependent than other families who do not. They can get things done quicker and to a higher standard which means more time to play.
At work, everyone also has a role. The leaders and managers who can also serve as teachers, coaches, and mentors will find substantially more respect and better output from their employees when they get involved. Employees who master tools/techniques and lend a hand to others can be heroes. This results in camaraderie and better production results.

Lastly, there are those who are not comfortable as teachers nor are they really cut out to be heroes. Some just lag behind a bit. What can we do? Well, in my opinion these people are just teachers and heroes waiting for their time to blossom or perhaps they are waiting for their field of expertise to present itself. Never give up on that child who doesn’t feel like pitching in or that employee who seems to always do the minimum. As I said earlier, the effect of just one person showing the team concept will have an amazing effect on the others. Now go out and build that team.

Curtiss Robinson – Soldier, Mentor, and Martial Artist

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