Teamwork in the workplace can be difficult. Teams at work often consist of a variety of conflicting personalities and styles. Getting to a point in which a team can collaborate and work in harmony can be a difficult task for a leader and takes time.
Steve Jobs tells the story of a widowed man he had gotten to know in his eighties who lived up the street from him when he was a young boy. “When I was a young kid there was a widowed man who lived up the street. He was in his eighties. He’s a little scary looking. And I got to know him a little bit. I think he may have paid me to mow his lawn.
One day he said to me, “come on into my garage I want to show you something.” And he pulled out this dusty old rock tumbler. It was a motor and a coffee can and a little band between them. And he said, “come on with me.” We went out into the back and we got some rocks. Some regular old ugly rocks. And we put them in the can with a little bit of liquid and little bit of grit powder, and we closed the can up and he turned this motor on and he said, “come back tomorrow.”
And this can was making a racket as the stones went around.I came back the next day and we opened the can. And we took out these amazingly beautiful polished rocks. The same common stones that had gone in through rubbing against each other like this (clapping his hands), creating a little bit of friction, creating a little bit of noise, had come out these beautiful polished rocks.
That’s always been in my mind my metaphor for a team working really hard on something they’re passionate about. It’s that through the team, through that group of incredibly talented people bumping up against each other, having arguments, having fights sometimes, making some noise, and working together they polish each other and they polish the ideas, and what comes out are these beautiful stones.”
Teams, he states, are like these stones. Individually we can be fairly normal, ordinary and even a bit rough. But through the process of teamwork we can end up in a very different state. Jobs states that teams consisting of incredibly talented people who are passionate and are working hard towards something often times bump up against each other, argue, sometimes fight and make some noise. By working together they polish one another and their ideas and in the process create beautiful stones.
Have you built up enough trust on your teams to allow bumping up against one another and passionately arguing on occasion? Passive, “follow the leader” types of teams are destined to fail. Each member of a team brings something unique. They are unique in their gifts, ideas and arguments. Team members must feel like they can express themselves without embarrassment or retribution. Leaders who embrace the process of “tumbling stones” on their teams create more efficiency, better ideas, better problem solving and ultimately better teamwork.