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7 Tips to Improve Teamwork and Collaboration
By Sandi Coryell

When people used to ask me how I learned to manage people, I defaulted to rattling off professional degrees and certifications. Then I realized that wasn’t it at all. The truth is, everything I learned about teamwork and collaboration happened on a dead end street in the type of neighborhood that outsiders avoided.

The benefit of growing up on that street was that I learned early on that people help each other out without being asked, they honor confidences by keeping their mouths shut despite knowing everything about everyone on the street, and they share the one ball that someone was lucky enough to have enough money to buy at Woolworth’s.

The houses on the street had all been converted into tenements in the early 20th century and by the 1960s, multiple generations of families were all crammed in together. Without air conditioning, the humid Massachusetts summers forced everyone outdoors creating de facto gatherings of kids and grown ups alike. There were no cars or money to go anywhere, so adults sat and talked with each other on stoops and kids played together in the streets. We didn’t divide into groups of boys or girls, African American or Caucasian, playing different games; we needed everyone to be able to field a kick ball team so we all played in the same game.

If we had a problem with someone, we told them to their face and worked it out. We didn’t talk or plot behind each others’ backs. We all scoured our attics for relics that could be burned for our annual communal bonfire in the middle of the street for the Fourth of July, and we all donated our old socks to make stocking balls for games when no one could afford a real ball.

There was a tough side to living on that street. Many friends became latch key kids far too young as their parents struggled working two or three shifts daily; crime rates went up as we grew; and we watched as some of the grown ups became residents of the state penal system.

We never talked much about those things but we all instinctively seemed to get past them in the same ways. We used lots of humor, that sarcastic brand so popular in blue collar Central Massachusetts; we became masters of adapting to a continually challenged reality; and we accepted and, most importantly, supported each other no matter what.

All in all, it was a great street to grow up on and here’s what I learned about teamwork and collaboration from those good people on that street:

  1. Be Inclusive – You can’t field a strong team unless everyone gets to be part of the game.
  2. Share the Ball – The resources of the organization belong to everyone on the team. Remember it’s not important that you’re the one that bought the ball; it’s important that you all use it in the game.

  3. Respect Each Other – Keep confidences and, if you have something to say to someone, say it to their face.

  4. Celebrate Together – As often as possible, formally and casually.

  5. Gather – Create “stoops” wherever you can throughout the office and gather there with frequency.

  6. Laugh – Laugh a lot. Through good times and bad. Find humor to lift each other.

  7. Support & Accept – Especially when things get tough. It pulls you together like nothing else.

Sandi Coryell is a leadership consultant, speaker, and coach focused on working with leaders to become more influential and distinctive through mastery of effective communication, influencing strategies, and deviance. If you would like to learn more about how to improve teamwork and collaboration, then contact Sandi at

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