When I started working for Tuscany (a software startup), I was given a task by one of the other engineers. After a few weeks, I had completed the code and sent the code for review to the more senior engineer. He looked at it and said, “Well, that’s not the way I would have done it, but that should work fine.” That first comment proved true for most of my tenure at the company. I did things differently then he did. Not necessarily wrong, not necessarily better, different. I sometimes took contention with how he operated and he with me, but we each kept moving the ball forward and learning as we went.
Over the years though, this theme has stuck with me. Teamwork necessarily means that others will do things differently than we would. When we dictate the all the minutiae of how to solve a problem to others, they don’t feel like part of the team; they feel like a drone doing what they are told. Sometimes we think that we know better than our team members and that we should just dictate the approach, but this robs us of the opportunity to learn and often breaks down the very value we get from working together as a team. Teamwork means trusting the competence of those we work with to get the job done, even if the way they do it is different.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t discuss the means or even critique it. Some of the most rewarding projects I’ve worked on occurred when we each each created, critiqued, listened, and repeated. Our final solution beat any solution we ever would have arrived at each working individually. Discussing how things should be done and why a particular method might be preferred helps everyone, but in the end your partners must plow their own row and get their job done just as you must get yours done.
The best teams don’t have one person who just gets their way. Instead, they work together, each bringing their strengths and ideas and being receptive to how they can improve. No team has one person calling all the shots. Teamwork means not getting your way, but often getting something even better.