October 2, 2022

Donald Thompson: 99% of your business relies on teamwork – here’s how to get it right

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Editor’s Note: This weekly column by Triangle veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson delivers real-time, easily digestible leadership actions you can take to build a better workplace, become a highly productive, future-ready leader and improve your leadership impact today. Stay tuned to WRAL Techwire each Wednesday for the next edition, as lessons build atop each other. Most recently, we talked about how to be transparent with your team

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All businesses rely on teamwork. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that you cannot have a thriving, sustainable business without great teams. Sure, you can have a hugely successful organization for a short time just by relying on high-performing individual contributors, but that business is like a ticking time bomb. It’s bound to explode.

One of the persistent challenges for executives then is to create an environment where better teamwork is organic. That’s one of the things I’ve been thinking about lately, since working on a co-authored piece about cross-functional teams and collaboration with two of my colleagues, Shelley Willingham and Bob Batchelor. “The Power of Teamwork: Why Diverse Teams Drive Stronger Growth” presents the functional mechanics of diversity and inclusion as a holistic business strategy for executives who want to improve efficiency, reduce risk and make better, faster decisions. Here, I’d like to share with you a few more tips for creating a culture where teamwork comes naturally.

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Better teamwork

One of the first lessons about creating better teamwork is very, very simple.

Ask yourself, “Are we all going after the same thing?” In any given C-suite, you’re likely to find a CMO, CHRO, CFO and more. We break the organization down into these functions, but we typically don’t integrate them back together to see the one thing we’re all trying to accomplish as a team. 

Understanding that unified, single goal for all team members allows our actions to be more naturally coordinated, simply because we share the same vision. The same idea holds true for individual departments and ad hoc teams that might be working on short-term projects. 

The second thing is – and this is equally as important as the first lesson – don’t arbitrate things your team needs to work out among themselves. As business leaders, we like to see a healthy tension that works well within our teams. There is a big difference between solving something quickly and encouraging a mindset of teamwork, so people can work together better in the future. Of course, you can be the facilitator. You can be the one who creates unity among the different functions and helps set and clarify important goals. 

But the simple fact is this: when I have stood back and allowed people to work out differences together, the tension in those moments forces people to learn and understand, through first-hand experience, that the things that separate us are not as important as that singular goal and function we’re trying to achieve together.

As leaders, we typically like to fix things and solve things, versus creating an environment where people can solve things on their own. When we do that, we stop teamwork in its tracks. 

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Slow. Down.

One final thought on better teamwork in the current social environment. There are a lot of things that divide us right now.

I get it.

But what I found is, far too often, we just haven’t slowed down to spend time together as individuals, because there’s so much pressure on getting a thing done. We feel so much pressure to produce and deliver that it can be easy to lose sight of what business is for. The point of any business is to create a better life for people – people inside that organization and outside of it, in big ways and in small ways, over time. 

The highest performing, most productive teams I’ve led and been a part of are those where people know one another and cheer for one another.

When we pause to consider the challenges that every person is facing right now in their jobs and personal lives, the busyness and chaos of the current environment just means we have to slow down a little bit and get to know each other.

We have to rebuild some relationships so we can move forward together. In the end, that moment of pause and connection will help us all build better teams and, ultimately, achieve more growth in business.

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About the Author

Donald Thompson is co-founder and CEO of The Diversity Movement which offers an employee-experience product suite that personalizes diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) through data, technology, and expert-curated content.

Their microlearning platform, Microvideos by The Diversity Movement, was recently named one of Fast Company’s “2022 World Changing Ideas.”

With two decades of experience growing and leading firms, Donald is a thought leader on goal achievement, influencing company culture and driving exponential growth. An entrepreneur, public speaker, author, podcaster, Certified Diversity Executive (CDE) and executive coach, Donald also serves as a board member for several organizations in marketing, healthcare, banking, technology and sports.

His autobiography, Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success, is available for pre-order now. Connect with or follow him on Linkedin to learn more.





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