By Larry Cole, Ph.D.

TeamMax, Inc.

You will decide if your survival instincts are a friend or foe to the collaborative teamwork required for damage prevention. No, this article is not about psychobabble, so let me explain.

We are hardwired to survive which gives rise to fight or flight whenever we perceive physical or psychological threats to our security. I’ve been an organizational consultant for over thirty years and see these instincts working every day. For example, I’m currently working with a department that has the reputation of being the “NO Department” within the company. That is, whenever there is a request for cooperation the requester hears no, we can’t do that. Survival instincts at work! The sad part of this story is the department manager didn’t know their reputation until I reported it to him.

Researcher, Lisa Kwan wrote about teamwork blind spots in her article, The Collaboration Blind Spot that appeared in a recent Harvard Business Review (March 2019). She said, groups feel threatened when others are encroaching on their territories. Sometimes, following instincts get people in trouble as is the case of our “No Department.”

But, let’s look at Mother Nature through another set of eyes. Historically, the survival instinct has been the impetus for animals and humans to form packs or teams. Your department is a pack within your company which is itself a pack. The Damage Prevention community can also be considered a pack consisting of several individual packs, i.e., One Call Centers, Excavators, Utility Companies, communities, politicians, etc. Now let’s address how packs can work together—collaboratively. I’ll begin with the three strategies offered by Lisa Kwan and then offer an embellishment.

  1. Group Identity.

This author contends that every team must maintain its own identity defined by the nature of its work and mission. Every member of the damage prevention team has the right to be humbly proud of its contribution to keeping their respective communities safe.

  1. Reaffirm Legitimacy.

Saying thank you must be two of the more difficult words to verbalize, because research shows they are infrequently used. Stop and ask yourself when you last thanked other members of the damage prevention pack for doing a great job? Publically recognizing each other is a great way to establish each other’s validity.

  1. Reassert Control.

Teams want control of their destiny. So the essence of this strategy is allowing and trusting other members of the damage prevention team will do what they do best.

My Embellishment

Kwan spoke to three excellent collaborative teamwork strategies. With that said, however, there are at least four additional strategies to consider.

  1. “I” in Teamwork

Contrary to the old cliché — there is only a we in team, every individual within the damage prevention community needs to understand their freedom of choice underwrites the decision to be a collaborative team member or not. There are many “whys” someone chooses not to be a collaborative team member, and my guess is a “distorted ego” is a primary driver. (This is a story for another time.)

  1. Helping Each Other to Succeed

Collaborative teamwork is easy. While reading the following steps ask yourself two questions: 1) Are these behaviors within my body? 2) What does it cost to use these behaviors?

1)   Know what we need from each other.

2)   Proactively meet/exceed team members’ expectations.

3)   Provide team members feedback about the success of meeting expectations.

4)   Accept and use the feedback to improve performance.

5)   Proactively do whatever is necessary to help team members to succeed and keep your community safe.

Yes, there will be times when one team member won’t 1) have needed or correct information, or 2) competently complete their job responsibilities. This is not a perfect world and mistakes are going to be made. During the course of my organizational consulting career, the major challenge team(s) face is team members making the decision to not adhere to this simple teamwork process.

  1. Vision

Working to achieve a “vision” is one of the more underutilized tools in the leader’s toolbox. Every company is working to achieve something so why not define it and put that definition to work as a powerful motivational variable? What is more compelling than a damage prevention community achieving their vision of safety? This vision needs to be the guiding principle as team members work to help each other succeed.

  1. Accountability

Last, but certainly not least, is the accountability tool. Team members of every successful team hold each other accountable to achieve success. Team members of the damage prevention team should do the same. Yes, I understand the challenges to do so.

1)   One has to muster the courage to provide honest feedback provided in a socially acceptable manner. Imagine for a moment how easy providing feedback could be if team members adhered to the default position that feedback is a gift.

2)   It just makes common sense that every team should want to know how their performance is impacting other teams.

3)   Teams within the damage prevention community should evaluate their success of working together on a regularly scheduled basis.

In Closing

I didn’t mean to over-simplify collaborative teamwork. Instead, I want you to recognize teamwork behaviors are already within your behavioral library and using them is free. Talk about a great deal!

Larry Cole, PhD., founded TeamMax®, Inc. and the TeamMax® methodologies to improve employee performance to maximize financial success He can be reached at