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Teamwork is something we all think we know about, but most of us work as part of teams which do not operate at peak capacity, or are at worst completely dysfunctional.  I’ve been part of them myself, so I know.  So how do we get to a place where we are happy with our team, get along with our colleagues, manage change effectively and cope well with the unexpected?

One way is to recognise that we have differences.  Not superficial ones like whether we prefer tea or coffee, or follow United or City, but fundamental ones like whether we can see the big picture or spot the tiny mistakes.  Failure to appreciate these significant differences can lead to serious misunderstandings between us that can hamper our ability to function effectively as a team.

These problems can be exacerbated by cross-cultural  issues.  I will say more about this on another occasion but it is always helpful to remember that others in our team may have fundamentally different  understandings of how we relate together, what we’re doing, and even how the common language we use works.

There are also simple personality differences which mean there are people we naturally relate to well and others we don’t hit it off with.  This is not necessarily a failure.  Someone once calculated that in any random group of 12 people there will be at least one whom you don’t like.  Liking is not the issue, but if we’re in the same team together we have to make it work.

In his excellent book Global Member Care: the Pearls and Perils of Good Practice (2011, William Carey Library, Pasadena CA, ISBN 978-0-87808-113-4) Dr Kelly O’Donnell points out that people in your team will fall into one of four groups: kindred spirit, collegial, enigmatic and irritating.  These are people you love to be with, and spend time out of work with, people you get along with ok, people you tend to avoid because you don’t really understand them, and the ones you really wish God would move somewhere else!

The first two groups are not an issue because you can work with them well.  The third you will have a tendency to misunderstand and the fourth you can frequently fall out with.  These last two groups are the ones that require most effort and emotional energy to deal with, but if we persist, can lead to fruitful working relationships even though we may never become friends.  The annoying people are probably sent by God to be the grain of sand which produces the pearl!

It is important to stress that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with finding a person annoying.  That may simply be a character clash, but it will be helpful to ponder whether contact with that person exposes a personality issue in you which needs to be worked on.  I have found in the past that persevering in developing a relationship with an annoying colleague has helped me to appreciate other less obvious qualities and has led to lasting friendship.

There is an American Indian proverb which says ‘Never judge a man till you have walked a mile in his moccasins.’ In order words, rather than complaining because people at work are difficult to get on with, try to understand why they are difficult.  Realising that there may be a reason why a colleague is hard to get along with may be the first step in learning to get along with him.

This ability to transcend personal dislikes for the sake of the team is what distinguishes excellence from mediocrity.  The United players may not actually like each other or their manager, but their teamwork is excellent.