Moments after the group gathered, Jonathan, a personable, outgoing fellow volunteered to facilitate the group's efforts. At that, he positioned himself at the flipchart, marker in hand, ready to take notes. Jonathan had previously told me with pride that he was a team player and he truly saw himself as one. He wanted his team to succeed and was highly motivated to contribute to their shared effort.
But once at the flipchart, Jonathan did as much to obstruct the team's effort as to support it. For example, he dismissed several ideas that differed from his own, and discounted some suggestions without trying to understand the reasoning behind them. He seemed unfazed when several people spoke simultaneously. As the effort proceeded, he failed to notice expressions of annoyance on the faces of some team members - or if he noticed, he did nothing about them.
Jonathan's heart was in the right place. He was a team player. How could it be otherwise, given how strenuously he wanted the team to succeed? Yet from the way he worked, it was as if he'd been directed to do all he could to make the problem harder to solve than it actually was.
The same was true of other participants—team players all. For example, one team member said she was good at listening to many simultaneous speakers; then moments later, she misstated a key point one of them had just made. Another said he'd support any solution as long as the session ended quickly. Then he continually inserted ideas that prolonged the discussion.
None of them seemed aware of how their behavior was counteracting the very success they wanted the team to achieve. Under the pressure of time, they acted in a manner that ensured their effort would need more time rather than less.
Partway through the session, with the team's energy plummeting, I asked them to describe their reactions to the team effort. Several said they were frustrated, impatient, or disappointed. Yet they said nothing until explicitly asked.
Did they solve the problem by their deadline? Yes, they did. But they could have solved it with fewer frayed nerves and ruffled feathers if they had built a foundation of respect and caring as their starting point. When time isn't spent up front building a strong foundation for working together, even more time is inevitably needed to repair the foundation when it cracks. The mark of a successful team is not just that it achieves a successful outcome, but that team members enjoy working together and would like to continue doing so.
A team that destroys itself in the course of accomplishing its mission is no team at all. Even if everyone is a team player.