I’ve had vast experiences in my lifetime of working within teams; both good and bad. I worked within very successful team and within very dysfunctional teams. I’ve learnt that good teams don’t just make themselves, they are developed over time and there needs to be a uniting factor, to bring a group of individuals together. Otherwise, you just get a group of individuals, working with their own agendas, with their own methods, which will inevitably all butt heads. But what has always interested me, is not what makes a good team, but what makes a good team player, something I endeavour to be. This is something, I will openly admit, does not come naturally to me. But yet, I have managed to work within brilliant and successful teams. Self awareness and experience tells me, I’m very focused, determined, competitive, ambitious, hardworking and I have in the past expected others to be the same. I’m quite introverted, so I don’t always communicate brilliantly. I’m a do-er and making sure everyone is a part of the process, is not a natural instinct. I get lost in ideas and projects and want to selfishly complete them in my way and at my speed. I’d prefer to stand and fall on my own. I’ve been labelled a dog with a bone, when it comes to project work. Consquently, I think I’m like marmite. People either absolutely adore working alongside me and get on board with my work ethic or they end up completely disengaged and as equally as frustrated as I am. What interests me the most out of all this, is that within my social sphere and even work sphere (my job at Gateshead Council), these personality traits are not apparent. People will tell you that I am supportive, a team player, selfless………
So where does my distain for team work stem from? Having a reflective look over the past (i.e then), may be useful in terms of moving forward (i.e now). I remember working within teams at school and never being able to find a voice for my ideas, being the silent frustrated one, the one who was often depended on to complete the work. As I’m extremely studious, it is fair to say, that if group work didn’t get done, then I used to pick up the whole work load and complete it. There have also been many situations, as I’m the one who doesn’t push my way to the front of stage, that within group work, I’ve had my ideas and my work presented as either someone else’s or as a team effort. This left me hating working within teams, teams within the educational sphere. I’ve had a job since I was 14 years old and I’ve never felt frustrated within the work sphere. I’ve sometimes felt that it takes a month or so, to find my voice and feet, but otherwise I’ve always fitted in and contributed positively. Moreover, I’ve been a very sporty person, playing a variety of team sports and thanks to my Grandad, I’m a bit of a socialist…….I like to get involved and change things within the community; the community is essentially a team….. So in terms of academics and learning, I’ve avoided working within teams a lot. Until the point I got older and I realised something crucially important, my difficulty within a team is a two way process. As difficult as I may find it, I’m sure the other members find it difficult too because i’m not naturally a team player. The only way to move forward, as team work is an inevitable part business, is by opening myself up to feedback, taking control of interactions and most crucially, putting myself repeatidly into team working situations and learning.
This started with H&M and my role as management. It might come across as surprising, but on a one to one level, people do like working with me, but within a group sometimes difficulties occur. This is symbolic of my social life, I’d much prefer to have a small gathering of people, than a large group. Large groups, make me feel very introverted, quiet and disengaged……this can come across in many ways from arrogant, to not interested, to distant, to emotionally disjointed. Within H&M, I was a manager, a leader……..something that comes very naturally to me. I built successful teams around me and I was sent to work with problem stores and teams. My teams weren’t only successful in terms of output but also they became a unit. We supported each other, we respected each other. I embodied Kearsley (2005)’s take on effective behaviour…….we had mutual responsibility, we were willing to take risks, we worked well together and appreciated each other’s working style, we gave each other feedback, we attempted to understand each other, we had a plan and i was respected. This team took time to make and of course, there were problems along the way, i had difficult members and a hugely challenging retail climate…….but I put a huge investment into personal development and making my team feel valued. I built in succession plans, training, rewards. I went back to basics and did the obvious things (well I think obvious, but few managers actually do it), I recognised hard work, I said thank you and the happiness of the team was paramount to me. Mirroring Hill’s view point, that teams are only truely formed when you gain a sense of achievement out of other’s achievements, I can honestly say for the first time, I wanted to progress people, I wanted them to succeed and i felt like I had something to offer to that process. I felt proud when they got promotions and did well. Consequently, this ethos made my team buy onto the new way of working, which had strategy, targets, communication and expectations. This team went from strength to strength and this was my first experience of real, business and practical success.
My most enjoyable team experience was that within Enactus Newcastle but it was also the most challenging. I had the role of president and this was a very different experience. This involved being the figure head of a struggling team, a team with several social enterprise projectsn with massive potential and a team that had been in love with their previous leader, who ironically nearly destroyed them. Stepping into a fully formed team, sensitively trying to change and restructure from a grass roots level and recruiting members outside of the team, to fill skills gaps was a difficult process. I opened myself up to feedback and spent a hard 6months, with a team that could barely look me in the eye, in fact they nicknamed me “Mussolini”. They couldn’t see that what I was engaging in was crisis management and attempting to secure the long term legacy of their projects and teams. They saw someone steamrollering in, imposing a whole new way of working and someone that they didn’t really know. My task here, was a difficult one, how do I engage and build a team with people outside of the structure of paid employment and no real accountability; I had a rebellion on my hands. I learnt a valuable lesson, respect is not just demanded, it is earned. I spent months working hard, engaging with the team, expanding networks, looking at long term strategy and persuading the team to take a leap of faith. Respect initially came from members due to the fact, we were all united under this common goal of social enterprise and social enterprise projects. I worked hard to develop their projects and to empower them, I provided opportunities, I managed them and I coached them through difficult situations. They appreciate that I invested lots of my time and energy into them and that I was working very hard. But it wasn’t until Enactus Newcastle did a U-turn, a dramatic one at that. We became successful, our projects flourished, we gained wide national recognition and did fantastically well at National Competition, we were 5th in the country (out of over 100s teams) and we were standing shoulder to shoulder with team who were 100s of members and projects large. Members of the team were being hunted by head recruiters and we were all winning awards left right and centre.
Now success didn’t just come from me changing the way of working and imposing new routines. Obviously, that helped us set goals and a path to achieve. What was striking about this team, was the complimentary skills that came together within the team. This was the first instance that I have ever worked as a unit; we worked fluidly together. This occured way before the success and outputs started to appear. It didn’t feel like responsibility was heavy on my shoulders, I felt a part of something, where responsibility was on all our shoulders. My team embraced the fact, I’m a planner, organiser, go getter, strategy developer…….but when it came to things that networking, presenting, designing marketing materials, expertise within some complex projects, that I had others to rely on. We each were aware of how much of an asset the others were and we were equally aware and accepting of their weaknesses, for which we mechanically compensated for. I planned and delegated into a team that once a unit, never let me down. I felt like I had a distinct role and I absolutely felt 100% committed to the team and Enactus Newcastle. It was a brilliant to work alongside people, who were all so different, different skills but yet, were equally as ambitious and passionate. What was extremely interesting, i didn’t feel like Rachel Horton, or Rachel Horton President of Enactus Newcastle or Rachel Horton member of Enactus Newcastle, we were just Enactus Newcastle and I was very proud and lucky to have been a part of it.
In contrast, a work experience within a team, that wasn’t so productive was when I was an intern. The job itself was fantastic, but we were four individuals who were so different to the point of questioning how we were even recruited into the same team to work together, as we didn’t compliment at all. We were expected to work together on projects and events and bring back deliverables, from a very early stage, but yet we worked completely separate working hours, meaning we never spent time together face to face. We weren’t managed, we weren’t delegated to, we weren’t guided, we were thrown together and expected to deliver with no uniting factors. We each had separate projects with different deadlines, but due to the lack of team work, concentrating on our own projects and roles, caused huge frustrations. As for all of us, the whole point of being an intern, is learning by doing, we didn’t have a lot of experience to draw on. This was my first experience of organising events, pitching, writing reports and whilst that job, set me up fantastically for today and I learnt more in that year, than any other year, our team was a mess and we made a lot of demoralising mistakes initially. We each felt so frustrated with each other, our peers above and our lack of direction. I ended up working alongside someone who was very like myself, just as dominant, strong willed and alpha female. We each were leaders, we were both power houses of hard work and liked to be in control. I reflect on this experience and remember the frustration! I learnt so much about myself in that experience, about the way I can be perceived, the way I can come across and these at the time, were all things i was completely unaware of. I learnt to communicate, invite feedback and most importantly, the best lesson of them all, you can’t chose who you work with but you can chose how you work with them. It was about accepting we didn’t work well together, but we had to and to work out how we could make that possible. In the end, through self awareness of ourselves and each other, we actually did work extremely well together, as we compromised and tailored our working styles. I made many mistakes within that team, things that if I had the chance again, I wouldn’t do, things that armed with the self awareness and knowledge I have now, I can see exactly how I frustruting I must have been to her and how I would have approach things completely differently. I put a lot of what i learnt within that internship, into Enactus Newcastle and it enabled me to take a different approach, with success………But that was then and this is NOW.