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Team chemistry – learning the mix

Can you describe team chemistry with words?

20 years removed from undergraduate college work and I’m still learning about team chemistry. It’s one of the simplest and yet most complex concepts. You know good chemistry when you have it because you can feel it. But yet, you may not quite be able to describe it with words. Good team chemistry keeps you motivated and involved. Bad team chemistry leaves you frustrated and looking for a way to leave.

I’ve been on teams with a good and bad mix. When it’s good, team members respect each other. They accept the faults in others and help find ways to look past weaknesses. Where there is good chemistry there is trust. You don’t have to ask for something twice. You don’t worry about how a task is completed because you know it will be completed. When there is good chemistry you recognize that each team member has a role that contributes to the whole. With good chemistry the individuals value the output of the team more than their individual output.

Teams with bad chemistry show the opposite characteristics. They disrespect each other and focus on one another’s faults. They don’t trust others to complete a task and would rather do it themselves. When the chemistry is off, the team members value their own output more than that of the team. With bad team chemistry the team members selectively hear their teammates with a filter that immediately gets defensive or says ‘no’.

Good chemistry happens when the results are more important than the credits.

Star athletes competing in a team sport often say their individual performance isn’t as important to them as the team winning. Charles Edward Montague wrote “There is no limit to what a man can do so long as he does not care a straw who gets the credit for it.” Many variations of this principle exist in quote, but the concept is the same. Teams accomplish more when individuals work together.

In one of my first software project management experiences, team was developing a B2B website for bankers to use. There was tight cohesion on the team from analysis, to requirements gathering, to design, and programming.We succeeded together and failed together and everyone knew it. The team focus was all about the goal of software releases. I felt good chemistry.

Bad chemistry happens when individuals are more interested in being “right” than in finding a solution.

I once made the mistake of always wanting to be “right”. I had a filter applied towards a manager based on past disagreements. No matter what they said, I found fault. When we disagreed about the direction to solve a problem or how complete a task, I argued to be “right” or to win the argument. It cost me a position and a relationship.

I’ve seen groups of people take sides in an office environment when disagreements and differences of opinions happened. They stopped listening to each other. They stopped working together. Solving problems for customers became less about the customer and more about their specific solution. The “right”solution. That’s bad business. That’s bad team chemistry.

There is a time to disagree and start over.

Sometimes as imperfect people we let ourselves devolve into bad chemistry. Sometimes the chemistry is there from the very beginning of a team due to personalities, individual goals, competitiveness, egos, or strong wills. There reaches a point where it’s not beneficial to go forward. It’s like trying to put the square peg in the round hole.

In the book of Ecclesiastes in the third chapter it says “For everything there is a season….a time to keep, and a time to cast away;”

Good chemistry isn’t something you can force on people. In some ways it just happens. Yet it’s also something that people have to intentionally work to keep in good balance. But there reaches a point when a team has bad chemistry that it’s time to agree to disagree and part ways. For the betterment of all involved it’s time to start afresh. I’ve been a part of a team that was disbanded because it wasn’t producing solutions. I’ve also been the new entrant to a situation where team members were not getting along and new players were needed to reset and refocus on business goals. When the chemistry isn’t good, the solution may be to re-rack the people.