If a rising tide lifts all boats, a top-performing team elevates all its members.
Knowledge work depends on teamwork. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s objectively true that working with others s how we achieve better results than we could by ourselves. Our species transformed an inhospitable planet into a home where to thrive through various forms of collaboration and teamwork.
Not everybody likes teamwork. Some people are introverts to the core and might struggle to make their voices heard. Others just want to show up, do their job, and go home, no question asked. You sometimes have a vision for how a project should evolve, but you can’t execute it because the people around you “just don’t get it.” There are also folks that have yet to develop the emotional intelligence required to operate with others.
Regardless of how you feel about teamwork, I want to make a case for you to prioritize it. Teamwork is an essential part of “your work,” not something to attend to once you ticked all the other tasks on your to-do list.
Let’s get specific. When I refer to teamwork in the context of software development, I’m thinking of all those activities that make other people move forward:
- Code reviews
- Commenting on RFCs
- Brainstorming and planning meetings
- Pair programming to work through gnarly code
- Reading your teammates status updates, in case there’s something you can do to help
On the face of it, none of those activities help you with your work. If you spend a day doing only those, you might appear behind. But that’s a terribly short-sighted view of the matter. Because while it’s true that your PR might still be in draft mode, everyone you helped made some progress. The whole team moved forward, likely more than if you had only worked on your task.
One could object that if they always start by helping others, they’ll never get to do their work. That’s rarely the case because once you unblock someone, they won’t immediately have new work for you to review. If you do really find yourself overwhelmed by teamwork tasks, you could adopt a prioritized rationed system: Work on the most important unblocking request, then on your most important task, then on the second most important unblocking request, and so on.
Prioritizing teamwork activities might appear self-less, but you have much to gain from it yourself. Brownie points for a start. If you consistently help people, they’ll be more likely to help you. On top of that, unblocking others will likely make your own job easier—assuming the work your team took on board is such that everyone operates towards a common goal, which is a topic for another day.
Here’s one more point that will convince even the most self-serving people: From the outside, a top performer in a poor-performing team looks like a poor performer or an average performer at best. In a top-performing team, everyone looks like a top-performer.
If you want a raise, make your team better.
Photo credits Bruno Emmanuelle.