Teamwork is so foreign to many women in business that we are completely unaware it is happening around us. Yet the inability to play as a team member can squelch a career.

Boys who participate in team sports learn about cooperation, taking criticism, and making one another look good, no matter what their personal feelings about each other. They learn about winning, losing, and playing the next game. Because of the nature of team sports, they also learn how to make deals and accept trade-offs. They learn to be flexible and have backup plans. Many adult women have not participated in team sports, and many have not even watched team sports very often. It is time we recognize the importance of teamwork.

Ironically, the same women who are willing to work diligently year after year, with only a word of praise as reward, will often refuse to cooperate with someone who has hurt their feelings or made them angry. If you have a sense of teamwork, you put aside all personality conflicts when the job has to be done. Women do not understand how the men around them can "go to the wall" for other men they do not even like. Men learned this skill as boys on the ball diamond: personalities and friendships are unimportant when you're up to bat with the bases loaded. In business, we are expected to work in our colleagues' best interests, even if we don't like them, in the interest of the department or company as a whole. Women too often see it differently. We want to play with our friends. We want to shine on our own.

My friend Steve works with Clare in the advertising department of a corporation. They both wanted their department to be more responsive to the needs of the company and its customers. Bill, from the sales department, told Steve he needed a brochure on a rotation measurement product, and he wanted to get it out "as soon as possible" to impress a large customer and to remain competitive. Steve said, "Okay, we'll rearrange our schedules and get it written and printed within two weeks." When Steve told Clare, she said, "No way, I'm not jumping through hoops for those guys." Clare confided that since she was responsible for rotation measurement products, she thought that Bill should have come to her with the request. Because he didn't, she didn't want to cooperate. Clare has no sense of teamwork. Her behavior ignores the common goal of selling the product to the customer, and she stifles the accomplishment of that goal. She is seen by the men around her as petty and unable to play as a team member. She is seen as unqualified.

Often, women are unaware of the teamwork going on around us. We assume that others are operating as independently as are we. Such behavior is seen as confusing at best, and even dangerous, by the men who observe us. The people in a position to help us promote our careers want a team player on their team. They want a person who is willing to put individual differences aside and work toward a common result.

Awareness is the first, and often the biggest, step toward adjusting our behavior. Begin to see yourself as a member of a corporate team. See your division or work group as a team. Begin to see others as contributors to a common goal, rather than rivals you are measured against. Stop evaluating their personalities or their potential to be your friends. Start to see them as people you can work with – or around – to help advance the company's goals and ultimately your career.


Table of Contents | Next page