• Mel Butcher

A Teamwork Presentation

Mel Butcher | Teamwork blog

Recently, I was asked to prepare and deliver a presentation on teamwork.

The context is that this group within a company decided on "teamwork" as their theme for the year and they wanted someone from the outside to come in and speak about it. No other instruction for me, so it's quite open-ended.

This is scheduled to happen January 21. Today, I'm just jotting down initial thoughts to eventually hone in on what messages might be most important to convey. It's unlikely most of this will make it in.

I'll let you know how it goes after the presentation. My goal is to ensure this isn't the last time I get to speak on this topic.


1. A Story

A while ago, an orchestral conductor was preparing for his next class of students. Before the semester began, he found himself thinking about this phenomenon he had encountered over and over. Students would come through class and have so much anxiety about their performance and how they would be graded, it impacted their ability to grow. It hindered their ability to become that next level of talented artist they were capable of becoming.

This teacher, his name is Mr. Zander, he asked himself, "What would happen if I gave every student an A from the start?"

And he decided to test it.

So, on first day of class he tells the students. He shares that they can have an A right from the get go. To earn the A, they have to submit a letter to him dated for the end of class. And the letter must begin with, "Dear Mr Zander, I got my A because..."

Hold onto this story; we'll come back to it.

2. The new world we live in

We can all understand that our economy has changed a lot over the years. A very long time ago, the agricultural evolution changed the course of people forever.

Later, a major advancement with the industrial revolution and its age, which are characterized by the advent of steam engines, the assembly line, and mass production of consumer goods. We might simplify how one could be successful in the industrial age by thinking about this - you just needed to be able to perform one simple task on the assembly line over and over. You didn't need to be handy at many things anymore, you could just be adequate at one. And people leading these factories or companies developed systems of management built on command and control - strict clock-in/clock-outs, expectations of being on and productive at the expense of everything else when "clocked in".

Consider that the education system that also continued to develop over this period of time reinforced those perceived needs, i.e. students need to have butts in seats, be on time, be quiet, only speak when called on, color in the lines, perform just the right way so you can get the grade.

More recently, we came into the Information Age. It's more complex than the Industrial Age. People can move up the socio-economic ladder by becoming knowledgeable - become a computer programmer, become and engineer, become a doctor, etc. The people who found success still went through an essentially industrial-framed school system, but most of them didn't end up working in factories, they ended up in cubicles.

Another shift is happening. Or perhaps it has already happened. Being an expert in one technical domain isn't enough anymore.

Why is that?

Look at everything that can be outsourced. We tend to first think about things that are farmed out "overseas", so CAD work and even a lot of engineering work can now be outsourced to locations abroad. But what else is happening. We see AI advancing to a point that it can read detect cancer from imaging better than a skilled doctor. With the ease of tools on the web, we are mere clicks away from hiring cheap graphic designers, home errand runners, and any other slew of freelancers.

As professionals, where does that leave us?

In his book A Whole New Mind, Dan Pink called this new age we're entering (or perhaps already in) the Conceptual Age. And he highlights 6 major areas of strengths that people will need to be successful in the Conceptual Age:

  • Design: described as the ability to create something beyond simple utility, incorporating delight and significance

  • Story: the ability to convey information in narrative form with emotional impact

  • Symphony: the ability to synthesize and orchestrate many pieces of information, including the ability to see past noise and find meaningful threads towards achieving an organization's goals

  • Empathy: ability to perceive how another person’s experience feels (note this is an important area where AI has no ability to overtake humans any time soon)

  • Play: the ability to bring humor, gamification, or joyfulness to work for self and others

  • Meaning: finding or creating purpose and significance beyond cold data

Recognizing that we are moving into the Conceptual Age is important because it can be a framework to help us understand what work matters most (especially in a place like a white-collar consulting firm) and where we should expect to see our business needs (which is to say our clients' needs) shifting.

3. Know yourself

Think about your work for a moment. I don't mean your job title. Your job title might be process engineer, and while you might be adept at some aspect of designing a system, maybe you are beginning to realize that's not the heart of your work. Perhaps the heart of your work is creating team cohesion. Perhaps it's bringing up young engineers so they are equipped for success.

Coming to know your strengths, maybe you'd even call it your vocation, allows you to focus not only where you will find the most fulfillment, but also where you are able to create the most valuable outcomes for your organization.

4. We have choices

We can convince ourselves that our voice doesn't matter, that our actions don't matter.

This is entirely false.

Only you have the power to disrupt that narrative, the story you're telling yourself.

Choose to tell yourself a different story.

When we come to the place in our journey where we are ready to own our voice, and when we decide there is an outcome we care about... we have new choices.

We can choose to develop skill(s) that will help us create the outcome we care about. Maybe that skill is public speaking. Maybe that skill is cultivating team collaboration. Maybe that skill is negotiation.

Regardless of the skill you identify, it will be a skill that you can choose to make a practice of, and this practice moving you forward in service of the outcome you seek to create.

As you do, you will find yourself




It will happen because of the work you do on yourself, not because someone hands you a badge of authority.

"People follow because they want to, not because you can order them to." - Linchpin by Seth Godin

You can lead.

Will you?

5. Get an A, Give an A

Life is hard. I don't mean that in the cliche way.

I mean that people who have suffered heartache, rejection, losing a loved one, affronts, broken trust... those people are most of us. We are the majority. Few and far between are the people who can say they haven't experienced these things and have had a pain free life.

If, like me, you believe that people are good in their heart at the core. Then it's not too far of a leap to acknowledge that people want to be positively contributing members to society and to our teams. It's not too far of a leap to acknowledge that team members around us, even the one that absolutely gets on our nerves the most, wants to contribute their talents to the team and organization, too.

In this moment, you can choose to give yourself an A (and I believe you should). Really reflect on the exercise and consider writing that letter on your own. Once you've received the A from yourself, that perfect annual review, how will you choose to behave differently?

Now, bear witness to your team members. Remind yourself that your team member deserves an A, too.

Here's an excerpt from one of the letters to Mr. Zander.

"I got my A because I had the courage to examine my fears and I realized that they have no place in my life. I changed from someone who was scared to make a mistake in case she was noticed, to someone who knows that she has a contribution to make to other people... Thus, all the diffidence and lack of belief in myself are gone. So too is the belief that I only exist as a reflection in other people's eyes and the resulting desire to please everyone... I understand that trying and achieving are the same thing when you are your own master..."

- The Art of Possibility by Zander & Zander

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