Monday, February 23, 2015

Values Advice for New Employees: Teamwork

Three weeks ago, I starting sharing the advice I gave to my association's newest employee, who had recently passed her three-month anniversary with our organization. The advice was focused specifically on our core values, and I offered it to her three-months in (rather than on her first day) on the presumption that it might have more meaning and impact for someone who had spent some real time in our organization.

I've already talked about our core values of Leadership, Enthusiasm, and Integrity. This week, let me share what I told this person, new both to our organization and to the world of associations, about our final core value: Teamwork--where each individual must work with others to deliver exceptional service.

This one may seem like it goes without saying. Is there an organization out there that doesn't rely on effective teamwork to serve its customers and achieve its other objectives? Maybe not, but we included it as one of our four core values because of how critically important it is to us and our environment. Every association I know of struggles with a mismatch between how it organizes itself internally so that it can get the work done and with how its members want to interact with its programs and services.

What do I mean by that? Well, we, almost by necessity, create silos in our organizations. Sometimes they're called departments. Sometimes they're called project teams. Sometimes, and at their most fundamental level, they're called job descriptions. We create task lists, and give people, teams and/or departments responsibility for doing them. And those people, teams and/or departments often do them with diligence and high levels of competency.

But inevitably, a member, in any single interaction with the association, will need to tap the resources of more than one silo in order to receive the service they expect and deserve. They're registering for the conference, but they want to make a donation to the Foundation. Or they have a question about the industry statistics we just released, but really need to reference one of our published standards in order to find the answer. Or, often most perplexing of all, they want something the association doesn't currently provide, but which could be developed by more than one silo.

The challenge, of course, is that the member has no idea how the silos in our organization are organized. Nor should they. It's incumbent upon the organization to coordinate effectively with itself to deliver the information the member needs, regardless of how many people, teams, or departments need to interact seamlessly with one another in order to do it.

So that's the reality of our world. What should a new employee do to survive and thrive in that environment? Two things.

1. Be curious about the work that other people do. We've already put you into a silo. Hopefully, it's made out of glass so you can see what's going on around you, and hopefully, there's a door that will let you get out and visit some of the other silos from time to time. Do that. Don't install a lock on your door and paint your windows black. Learn as much as you can about what the other people, teams, and departments in the organization are doing, and the kind of resources and solutions that they offer our members. Members are going to ask you questions that you won't be able to answer unless you know how we've organized our silos and what kind of value can be found within each one.

2. Offer to help before you are asked. In my experience, this is the single most important thing that breeds effective teamwork in an organization. Everyone needs help, but human nature sometimes keeps us from asking for it. Maybe we're making a decision without a critical piece of information that is buried deep in another silo. Maybe we think we are the only person who knows how to do a certain task. Maybe we're convinced that our value to the organization is defined by how much work we can get done. It doesn't matter why we're not asking for help. When you see someone who needs it, give it to them. No strings attached.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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