Business problems today are too big for any one person to solve. Agile teams are much more effective at solving problems than are lone geniuses. So why do we still reward the smartest people in the room more so than those who excel at working with others? You know who I’m talking about: the people who brazenly take over meetings by showing off how much they know or how witty they can be at the expense of any other voice in the room—and who often end up getting all of the boss’s attention.
Perhaps it used to make sense to defer to “the smartest person in the room” because, in conventional organizational hierarchies, they are the ones who became the leaders charged with issuing the orders. But in today’s more open world, where the best work is done by teams and communities, we need to rethink which skills have become
I’m not arguing that intelligence isn’t a crucial skill. Rather, when we overvalue an individual’s abilities to the detriment of the team, we’re likely putting our organization at a disadvantage. It’s not an individual’s IQ that separates our best people from the rest; it’s their ability to work well as part of a team, that we should be celebrating.
At Red Hat, we’ve found that there are a set of skills you can prioritize, train, and even reward as a way to build the kind of smart teamwork that’s going to give you a competitive edge.
1. Active listening. How often have you found yourself in a conversation with someone, only to find yourself having to repeat the same information to that same person all over again? Great teams, however, are made up of great listeners.
This is a lesson I learned from Delta Air Lines’ former CEO, Jerry Grinstein. I remember a time when we were meeting with a group of financial advisers and Jerry, as usual, was taking copious notes. I didn’t think anything about it, because he often took lots of notes. But after the meeting, one of the senior advisers described how rare it was for a senior executive to “admit they don’t know everything” by taking notes. It made a clear impression on the adviser.
That’s why now, at just about every meeting I attend, I bring a notebook along and take notes to send that same message to who might be talking. Plus, I’ve found that when you take notes, you can more easily follow up with the person letting them know what you heard and what follow up questions you might have. When team members start actively listening to each other, everyone becomes smarter.
2. Giving and receiving honest feedback. Teamwork requires communication—a lot of it. It needs to be frequent and constant. It’s not enough to wait until the end of the year, for example, to share feedback on someone’s performance. There needs to be a continuous flow of information between the members of a team—and most of it needs to be positive. Your associates should be encouraged to say “Great job!” and “Thank you!” to each other far more than they should share criticism.
At the same time, individuals need to be willing to confront the hard truths about their own performance without becoming defensive. Team members need to embrace the concept of “you aren’t your code,” which means you must be willing to accept a critique of your work without thinking someone is criticizing you personally. The idea is that you want to build a sense of accountability among a team’s members where people watch each other’s backs—not look to stick a knife in them.
3. Valuing team contributions, not ego stroking. We all want to be seen as smart and capable, especially in the workplace. But it’s by making contributions to the team or community that actually earns you influence and trust—not your ability to show off how smart you are. Great team members have a willingness to admit they don’t have all the answers. Rather, they seek to talk through problems and think on their feet in order to reach the best conclusions with the help of their team rather than shoulder the burden of coming up with all of the answers on their own. Rather than seek personal awards and achievements above all else, great team members value their contributions to the group’s accomplishments instead. And by doing so, open themselves up to opportunities.
I’ve seen it first hand at Red Hat. The individuals that are team players are often called to participate on more cross-functional team projects, allowing them to enjoy broader opportunities and experiences across the organization.
When you can recruit, train, and retain team members that display skills like these, you’ll wind up with better decisions, better engagement, better execution, and ultimately better results. How smart is that?