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Operating at a Perfect 10: What Is Good Teamwork?

What is good teamwork for your company? class? sports organization?

In my work at the Center for Public Partnerships and Research at the University of Kansas, team means the entire lot of us—sixty individuals committed to the common goal of optimizing well-being of at risk children, youth, and families. We tackle complex problems by generating responsive solutions that improve practice, inform policy, and advance knowledge. This means that we do not provide direct service, but rather work behind the scenes with partners to help them implement programs, evaluate effectiveness, and plan for the future. Instead, we operate in a space of uncertainty, where the end goal is vaguely defined, and the pathway to get there is twisty. Our funding is equally uncertain, and we strive for a diverse portfolio through successful grant writing, repeat clients based on strong relationships, and a growing reputation of being a cadre of innovative, mission-driven, and energizing individuals.

Group of People In a Meeting Writing on a White Board

While I have experienced many instances of team success, I strive for a team excellence that goes beyond common goals, defined roles, processes and procedures, relationships, etc. For me, a successful team is more of a state-of-mind. It’s having that special sauce that leads to a feeling of support, understanding, acceptance, and accountability. I know it sounds kind of corny, but it feels good and is what holds things together through tough times. It’s not a catchy acronym, but this is what makes us who we are.

What is good teamwork? Here's the special sauce


Stand together for social justice

Accept that we all have lives and family outside of work

Understand that we all have struggles and sometimes need to lean on the team

Celebrate successes

Expect that everyone will leave it better than they found it

Here are a few examples of how this plays out:

What is good teamwork? It includes work-life integration

We practice work-life integration. This doesn’t mean checking emails 24-7. Rather, we create a culture where people can be successful at work and in life outside of the office. Bi-directional flexibility is essential. Taking care of parents, kids, pets, etc. doesn’t happen between 8-5, so we have to figure out how to complete the work and be good partners, parents, sons, daughters, etc. While some may find this a blurry distinction, I find that the lessons and practices that make us successful at home can translate in the work place and vice versa.

What is good teamwork? It relies on adaptation

When my Dad was dying and stuck in that limbo between life and death, my co-workers adapted. I struggled and needed people to take some of the work off my plate. Also, I to keep busy. My work got me through. Acknowledging the struggle and wrapping around team members during that period is part of our social fabric that makes loss bearable.

What is good teamwork? Teams celebrate success

Celebrating successes takes on many forms for us. We acknowledge these bright spots every Monday and share what is important to us. The small things matter. When our undergraduate student was studying for the MCAT, we took a group picture with a “Good Luck” sign and texted it to him. He said this gave him the boost he needed when he was at a low point. We take the time to stop and reflect on important markers in our lives, both personally and professionally. Cake and/or pie is often involved.

What is good teamwork? Don't forget acknowledgement!

The recent shootings in Orlando hit us all hard, especially our LGBT community. At our Monday morning stand-up huddle, a team member asked for a moment of silence. Afterwards, he received several emails thanking him for this acknowledgment. This simple act communicated to others that we are a safe space where people can be themselves. It also solidified our need to do more and band together for social justice outside of our work.

What is good teamwork - Consistency

Working in a space of uncertainty is not for the weak. For instance, we are hard chargers with high expectations. While the above examples may sound fluffy, we are anything but. We must be connected to others, bring expertise and a skill set, and  take courage. We expect that attitude every day. Therefore, individuals who do not operate well in this environment find it uncomfortable. We are unapologetic in our stance for high expectations. Our partners deserve our best. And we deserve the best for ourselves and each other.

What is good teamwork? Factor in the needs for maintaining success

Finding and maintaining the perfect team is an elusive goal. I’ve had two teams in my career where we were operating at a perfect 10. We anticipated what was needed with a look. We were in complete sync workwise and emotionally. We were highly productive. The perfection was short-lived. Further, this status isn’t attainable or sustainable for large groups of people.

What is good teamwork? Everyone contributes

These days, I strive for a messier brand of team, where grit, passion, and a desire to change the world are central to membership. I want people to feel connected to the work and to each other. When we spend at least half of our waking hours at work, it seems critical that this time is spent with people you care about and like.

Lastly, this quote about sauce and cooking sums it up nicely:

"Sauces comprise the honor and glory of French cookery. They have contributed to its superiority, or pre-eminence, which is disputed by none. Sauces are the orchestration and accompaniment of a fine meal, and enable a good chef or cook to demonstrate his talent."

Our CPPR team sauce is what distinguishes us, amplifies our individual talents, and enables us to create solutions that, we hope, contribute to making a difference in the world.

Jackie Counts, MSW, PhD., is the Director of the Center for Public Partnerships and Research ( at the University of Kansas Achievement and Assessment Institute. The Center’s mission is to optimize the well-being of at-risk children, youth, and families. We offer solutions and support to our partners, so they can do what they do best—deliver services. She received her training at the University of California—Berkeley and the University of Kansas. Jackie is the resident Activator and works toward sparking ideas and inspiring others toward action and solutions. She keeps work focused and on track, but isn’t confined by linear thinking. Some of her most outside-of-the box ideas come to her while riding her bike or Cross-fitting.

The CONNECT2Win Blog has been discontinued. The CONNECT2Lead Blog continues, and you'll find free and affordable resources for team on People First Leadership Academy