When you think about a great team you have been in, do you think about the work, or do you think about the people you worked with? For me, it’s the people. Thinking back to my first start-up, my team and I led creative workshops for some of the biggest global TV shows in the world. Every year the production teams would meet to share ideas, collaborate, and plan, and we made these events happen. Working for the top TV creatives was both inspiring and incredibly challenging. We once worked a high-profile TV event where most of the top talent were a pleasure to work with, excepting our main contact who bullied her way through the project.
Despite the hard work and the late-night tears, we believed in the project, and we worked positively with each other to deliver a brilliant event. We are still proud of that work today, not just for the quality of the work we delivered, but for how we were able to work positively and support each other, despite the challenges. A decade later, our team continue to be good friends, even though we’ve moved to different companies. When you’ve been through one of those “best of times, worst of times” situations, it shows you what people are really like, and if they are great team players, it brings you closer.
However, being great friends doesn’t always make you a great team. Some of the worst performing teams I know are great friends and have a brilliant time together but don’t get anything done. Collective intelligence research tells us that teams who avoid constructive conflict in favour of consensus make fewer successful decisions because they don’t challenge each other enough.
High performing teams do not need to be best friends first. It’s easy to assume that friendship is the first step towards teamship, when really it’s the other way round. We come to work to achieve something, whether that’s launch a new product or serve our customers. Putting friendship before teamship means we might launch an inferior product because we didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, or forget to serve our customers because we’re too busy having a laugh.
Great teams are like sports teams; they expect great performance from every player, and they play well together because they want to win. When we work well together despite the pressures at work, we can develop a deep trust and respect. I’d argue that being respectful of each other and being a pleasure to work with are the basics of doing a great job in any team. From that we may create brilliant friendships and find those best friends at work, but the teamship has to come first. If friendship comes from teamship, that’s a bonus.
Pam Hamilton is the author of Supercharged Teams: 30 Tools of Great Teamwork. Pam is a teamwork and collaboration expert with a background in psychology, an obsession with collective intelligence, and 20 years experience working in corporate and public sector teams across the world. This article was first published in TJ Magazine, August 2021.