31 July 2020

How to work “hard”​ in a team: A lesson learned from my first corporate misstep

The last couple of weeks afforded me some time to engage in several “virtual” conversations around career and professional growth with many of my peers. As we discussed these topics, particularly around the challenges we face while trying to navigate through our professional journeys, I recognized a pattern – regardless of our different physical locations or organizations that we work for, many of us had experienced situations where we invested enormous time and effort in the work we do, and then it turned out that such effort didn’t always lead to the desired outcome.

I want to share an experience from one of my first jobs, having to deal with such a challenge for the first time, and struggling to make the wisest possible investments towards achieving workplace success.

My first corporate missteps

“On an assembly line, it is easy enough to distinguish output from activity. It gets trickier when employees are paid to think.” – Andy Groove

It was only a couple of months on the job that I experienced one of the most difficult professional challenge. Searching for remedies, I had approached one of my managers for advice. During one of our several “feedback” sessions, he said to me:

“Kingsley, it is not about what you do, but how you do it.”

To be quite candid, at that point, I couldn’t really put the puzzle together. For one, I assumed that I was working hard enough to get the job done and meet the required expectation for every task. So, this feedback got me confused. For a short while after the session was over, I sat back on my chair wondering to myself, was “hard work” not enough to achieve success in this environment?

P.S: It is not just about what you do or how you do it, but also why you do it that counts

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” – Albert Einstein

I can vividly recall an incident that took place during the first few weeks on the job. I started working on a project topic I was quite passionate about and I presumed that it was relevant to the work we did in the team. But unfortunately, other members of the team didn’t feel the same. Nevertheless, I continued with it, gave it so much time and effort, and committed much of my personal time and resources into it as well – with the expectation that everyone will eventually come on board with me once the results started to show.

But even after achieving considerable success along the way, I still didn’t receive the expected buy-in of my then team members. As I later came to realize, while the project topic was a priority for me, it wasn’t a priority for my team – we just weren’t aligned.

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When you work in a large organization it will become necessary to align your work and priorities with that of other stakeholders as well as team members. As it turns out, the most successful team are clear on what matters most for them, how work should be done, why it is done, and make an effort to provide a precision tool to communicate this to individual contributors and team members. And as an individual contributor, understanding this can help you connect with other team members towards maximizing your output and making a difference within the group.

But not all teams have figured this out… yet

Out of eleven thousand senior executives and managers, a majority cannot name their companies top priorities. Only half could name one.” – John Doerr in Measure What Matters

In most large organizations, there will be situations where the team priorities are not always going to be clearly stated or known.

“When there is a serious lack of clarity about what the team stands for and what their goals and roles are, people experience confusion, stress and frustration. When there is a high level of clarity, on the other hand, people thrive.” – Greg Mckeown

It will be your duty as an individual contributor to find ways towards aligning your work with that of others. And by successfully doing so, you will be able to identify build great relationships that will guarantee your success as a team member.

As I continue to think about the next steps in my career journey, I would be glad to learn from your experiences on the topic of how to achieve workplace success.

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