The Power of Teamwork

Few people realize that a group can accomplish what an individual alone cannot do — even when it comes to individual advancement. If you want the next promotion, you have to elbow that hardworking colleague next to you out of the way, right? Wrong. Here’s a true story that shows you why.

It started when I sat across from three courteous, poised, but frustrated female investment bankers over a decade ago.

“We need a coach,” said the young banker named Cindy (names have been changed), while her colleagues Leslie and Amy nodded in agreement.

“It’s not just the three of us,” Leslie added. “The three of us are the selection committee. There are fifteen of us who want coaching, and our job is to pick a coach that can work with the whole group.”

As it turned out, all fifteen members of the group had been passed over for promotion within the last year. Amy said, “We don’t want to litigate, and we don’t want to change firms. We like each other, and we like working here. However, we don’t want to be overlooked anymore. If someone can tell us what it takes to get ahead, we’re ready to do it.”

These fifteen women become my first coaching group. Over a decade later, I’m still reflecting on what this group of talented bankers taught me about power, trust, and teamwork.

The first step in our coaching was establishing each member’s personal power style. Through exploring the four core power styles of the Pleaser, the Charmer, the Commander, and the Inspirer, each member of this group learned how to play to her strengths and minimize her blind spots on the job.

But they took it a step further. When looking for people who have the potential to make it to the C-suite, many seasoned business leaders have told me that they look for people who are able to move beyond an understanding of how to be personally powerful, and embrace the ability to support others. The key to embodying this quality on the job this isn’t just thinking about how to motivate or advance others. It’s about experiencing situations with them that foster a spirit of trust.

In order to do this, the participants started to role-play their habitual responses to challenges ranging from satisfying a demanding boss to managing a troublesome subordinate in front of the group. These women would often sit back and watch as other group members volunteered to act out how people with a different power style might respond to the same situation. It was fascinating to watch how insightful a group could be as they pondered each other’s career challenge together. Each woman was given a new perspective and approach to consider that might not have occurred to her without the team’s input. What’s more, as the group members developed a sense of each other personally as well as professionally, their collective intuition for giving each other advice on how to approach tricky situations evolved at an amazing pace.

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