The Power of Teams

Jane Rogan
Founder and Chief Bottle Washer at Connect
Strategic Doing Fellow

women volunteers on a house building site

I spent Thursday last week on a Habit for Humanity Women’s Build. It was a fantastic experience on a beautiful almost fall day in Indiana, surrounded by like-minded women volunteers all working together on a bustling job site where two houses are being completed at the same time.  

Many, if not most, of us do not typically hang out on the top of ladders or swing hammers all day long, so it was gratifying to have several team leaders and site managers guide our crew of 28 volunteers through the process. While we were not given individual assignments, we were divided into smaller crews to tackle specific jobs: insulation board; house wrap; siding channels, siding. Each project had multiple tasks which called for people to lean into their strengths and to try new things with lots of helping hands to guide the work.  Having worked on a few home remodels, I was happy to don my tool-belt, hang off tall ladders, and float to teams who needed extra hands. I was equally happy to run to grab more nails from the site trailer, and to hold the ladder for others as they took their turn nailing up insulation and siding.  

women on ladders add house wrap to a home being constructed

In the afternoon we started hanging vertical siding—a new experience for me. Preparation is key: set the channels on the level, cut precisely, and always check your pieces are installed plumb. We inevitably slipped up, though. When we discovered our mistake, an incorrectly installed piece that was not level or properly clipped in, we had already added four or five more siding pieces. To correct the error meant removing the siding we had just hung, including a tricky cut piece around a window, and repeating our installation process. Annoying but not the end of the world. It did, though, leave our “Cutting Crew” at a standstill. Smartly, the “Cutting Crew” thought things through and hatched a plan to utilize their time wisely. As the day was drawing to a close, they decided to multi-task. First, they asked us to stop our work and to give them the dimensions of the remaining pieces we needed for the day. After cutting the final pieces they switched to clean-up and began disassembling the cutting area and putting tools away. They finished clean-up just as we finished installing the final piece for the day and with high fives all around, we celebrated our collective efforts.  

What was evident throughout the day was just how much can be accomplished in a brief time frame by many willing hands. There were adequate guidelines to keep teams safe, and participants encouraged one another, picked up the slack for each other, and felt comfortable speaking up to keep the work flowing smoothly. Decision-making was collaborative, and team members shared ideas freely about how best to solve problems with complicated cuts or which tool to use to complete the task.  

a partially constructed home with green siding

I hope you can see where I am heading… Yes, the entire day was a lesson in the underlying theories and ideas of Strategic Doing: the power of a guiding purpose that all team members embrace; safe spaces for candid and carefully offered feedback; deployment of assets; the awesome power of teams; the lack of ego; and the focus on the end goal.  

Amy Edmondson coined the phrase “rapid teaming” sometimes referred to as “teamwork on the fly.” This kind of teamwork allows us to coordinate across traditional knowledge boundaries and functional silos. It encourages collaboration, speaking up, experimentation, and reflection. Edmondson goes on to say that for this kind of teaming to be successful, teams must hold fast to their shared purpose and embrace diverse perspectives while depending on three critical pillars: curiosity, passion, and empathy.

My experience on the volunteer-heavy work site, shows how rapid teaming allowed relative novice volunteers to share and deploy their skills and expertise, spot mistakes, correct and learn from them. The entire day on the Habitat for Humanity Women’s Build exemplified the awesome power of teams to find their way, to accomplish remarkable work with limited oversight, and to never lose sight or or enthusiasm for the important purpose of the work at hand. 

two women carrying a ladder

Edmondson, Amy C. Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy. Jossey-Bass, 2012.