Teamwork is an essential value, in both our social and work lives. Many of us played team sports as kids. Most of us have had to describe how and why we consider ourselves to be “team players.” And teamwork and team-building exercises are staples of most workplaces.

So why do we often end up feeling like we’re on a team of one?

Too often the team environment is inauthentic — only lip service or corporate talk.

A real team is a group of individuals united in a shared goal. Without that shared goal (and shared passion for exactly what it means), you’ve just got a bunch of people doing some tasks together.

Sometimes teams don’t achieve the shared goal because of ego. Some people find it difficult to share credit. They want their contributions singled-out and celebrated.

The truth is, there’s no room for superstars when it comes to teamwork. Of course, teams need team leaders, but leaders aren’t stars — they’re the ones who provide guidance, coaching and encouragement to help everyone achieve the shared goal.

When individuals put aside their need for gold stars and the team fully embraces the shared goal, then the potential of teamwork can be realized, and that’s when the magic happens.

Last Sunday, I saw an excellent example of teamwork at a dragon boat regatta. Race after race, two dragon boats flew through the waters of False Creek, powered by passion and commitment to their shared goal. On each of the team’s two boats, 22 paddles stroked in and out of the water with impressive synchronicity. Heads down, muscles straining, the paddlers were fuelled by their steersman’s encouragement and the persistent beat of their drummer, driving them faster and faster towards the finish line. For their day’s efforts, the team took silver and bronze.

What’s remarkable about this team is that it’s made up of teenagers, aged 13 to 18, and they were competing against adults.

Impressive results, considering that this team comes from a mountain town, where the weather demands a shortened training period on a lake the size of a pond.  And yet for more than a decade, this team has taken home gold at the Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival. These kids have no superpowers, just excellent coaching and a shared belief that as a team they can achieve their goal. 

The Laoyam Eagles remind us of what’s possible if we make a decision to be part of a team. Great things happen when we get in the boat and row (or paddle) — together.

Maureen Douglas, CPF-IAF, is usually in this weekly space. Mo writes, consults and speaks about the power of positive public, workplace and team engagement. Click here for Mo’s FREE e-Guide to Better Public Engagement. Follow her on Twitter.