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Effective Teamwork Skills: We Felt We Could Change the World

And with our effective teamwork skills, we did!

Pami, Kevin, Adam, John, Rick, Manuel, Sue, Ross and I worked for a nonprofit that served underprivileged urban students. These kids came from very challenging backgrounds. Unfortunately, they’d often grown up with violence, drugs, unstable homes (not just single-parent families, but zero parent families), and poverty. I led the team of managers responsible for teaching and mentoring these students. Moreover, our goal was to help the students succeed and become leaders in their own communities.

Tug of War

During the years I worked with this team, we pulled together and achieved amazing results. For instance, during the Great Recession, with revenues declining, Manuel and his team innovated and found a way we would serve almost twice as many students without spending any more money. It was always amazing to work with this team and see what we were able to achieve. Of all our accomplishments, I am most proud of a project where my team surprised me.

Effective teamwork skills that changed the world

We’d been surveying high school graduation rates and post-secondary education enrollment. As you might imagine, the rates for these students were dismal. Nonetheless, the students we worked with were doing better than the general population. Therefore, I approached the team with my vision that we could do better.

Instead of settling for only half of students enrolling in college, trade schools, or the military, we set our sights higher. In my mind I was thinking that in three years we could get 80% of our students doing something productive after high school. Nonetheless, I kept this goal to myself. I was curious to hear their target.

Setting our sights higher with our effective teamwork skills

As they talked about the various possibilities, one comment from the team stands out in my mind all these years later: “If we’re serious about our mission and our values, shouldn’t our goal be 100%?”

The team stopped and considered this statement. It was a profound moment. An audacious goal. The team called itself to a much higher summit and level of performance than I’d even contemplated.

Slowly, heads began to nod. Each person recognized the truth of what had been said. “If we’re really committed to what we say we believe in, then nothing less will do.” As a team, they set that goal and I guided them through the process to operationalize it.

In the first year, we moved from 50% to 68%. The second year we got to 88%. By the third year, over 90% of our students were actively pursuing some kind of post-secondary education. (Compared to just 1 in 4 of their peers.) It was a massive success for the team, the students, and the generations of their children who would know a different life because of the decisions the team made that day.

In addition, I am proud to have been in the room – and a little embarrassed that their expectations of themselves exceeded what I would have proposed.

Our effective teamwork skills for success

Furthermore, this team succeeded for several reasons.

Effective teamwork skills: Rule #1

There was the clear articulation of our mission and the values. In that conversation the team called back to our values: excellence, justice, and love and what it would look like to live those out in this decision. They harkened back to the mission and asked what it would look like if we took our commitment to changing lives seriously.

Effective teamwork skills: Rule #2

The team had learned how to disagree. This is a critical element of productive teams. I invested time every quarter revisiting conversation skills, the art of negotiation, and how to have difficult conversations. Therefore, we practiced. We celebrated when we got it right. We corrected when we got it wrong. Those skills allowed us to have the conversations that fostered great achievements.

Effective teamwork skills: Rule #3

The team succeeded because they trusted one another. As the team leader, I’d had to remove a few team members who consistently violated trust – either with their behavior or work performance. The people around that table had established years working together through challenges where they discovered that they could fully rely upon the person next to them – and that they would also be equally reliable when called upon. Thus, they knew they each brought different strengths to the table and had learned to value those differences.

These were the ingredients of one of the best teams I’ve ever had the privilege to work with: a clear mission and values, the ability to hold difficult conversations well, and deep trust and appreciation for one another’s strengths.

This is the effective teamwork skills recipe that changed the world.

David Dye works with leaders who want to get their team to the top without losing their soul (or mind) in the process. David shares his expertise through keynote speaking, workshops, consulting, and coaching. Honored as a top leadership expert to follow in 2015, David is the award-winning author of Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul and The Seven Things Your Team Needs to Hear You Say. Connect with David at and


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