Whether you’re working for your local MSA, volunteering at the Masjid or even getting involved with a charity focused on social work, you will inevitably be part of a group of like minded individuals all performing various related functions in order to accomplish the same objective. You’ll be working on a team. Unfortunately, the dynamic in many places is more “we’re all here doing different things to accomplish something” and less “we’re in this together, we’re a team.”
Teamwork is one of the great intangibles. If you (and your team!) can master it, you’re going to be successful. Very successful. It’s ironic though, how many organizations fail to master this ability. The lack of teamwork in Islamic institutions is often based on the same reasons there’s a lack of teamwork in the corporate or business environment. Because the group of people that are all in the same place working towards the same things have different beliefs than one another and worry more about themselves than they do about each other and about the goal at hand.
This post, and a few after this one, will discuss teamwork from the “why can’t we make this work” perspective. Borrowing from Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, we’ll go over the root causes of poor teamwork and apply them to Muslim organizations. Lencioni’s book is a must read for those taking their first positions leading teams and would even serve as a good aid for those who have lots of experience with “teamwork.”
The first ingredient, or the base of the teamwork pyramid, as Lencioni frames it, is trust. It’s the absence of trust between team members that often causes both the team and its morale to erode. To put it in context, if we were looking at this from a corporate perspective, we’d say “Of course people don’t trust each other at my huge company, everyone’s out to back-stab one another anyways and people only want to get ahead themselves.”
It’s a shame though, that the same problem exists in Muslim organizations. By trust, we’re not talking about “Hey, can I trust you to hold onto some jewelery while I’m on vacation?” we’re talking about the kind of trust that’s required for people to take risks in front of one another without worrying about the consequences. Essentially, it is the ability to be vulnerable around one another.
Willful vulnerability – as much of an oxymoron as that sounds – makes for the basis of a good team. If I’m willing to be vulnerable around my team members, it means I’m willing to make a mistake in front of them, I’m willing to fess up to what I don’t know about the current project or willing to admit that I may not be the best person for a particular role.
This form of trust facilitates an environment where people can focus on their strengths. When everyone is honest about what they’re good at and what they’re bad at, it allows the best person to fill the role every time and for the best idea to rise to the top of a discussion every time. The reason we don’t generally trust one another is because many of us have been in situations where admitting a fault, or suggesting something a little too outside of the box is considered reputation suicide. If you feel like the people around you will pounce on you for making a mistake or humiliate you for not conforming, then you don’t trust them. This is why it’s so hard. Inherent in trust is risk. A good team facilitates risk taking and ensures the environment is better for it.
Trust is a funny thing, it takes time to develop and can look quite different than we expect it to be. In the second article of the series we’ll talk practically about how to build trust in teams.