Working Together to Get Results

 There are many clear advantages of working together with others in order to achieve the desired results. By combining the various ideas and skills of a number of different people, each with their own personality and uniqueness, tasks and goals can be reached much more efficiently and often in a more timely manner as well. Often by working together with others, we are able to accomplish tremendous achievements that could otherwise not be accomplished on our own.

Of course working together implies not only going through the necessary steps alongside others but also doing so in an organized and structured manner. If the approach is not organized, the addition of extra people can in fact often make the effort less efficient through problems such as arguing or a lack of alignment on methodology. Structuring the group to ensure synergy is present is a very important part if beneficial results are to be achieved.

We have all had to work with others on numerous projects and activities if life. For some people, working with others comes very naturally and yet for others it is difficult or awkward. Whether you are the type of person who enjoys working with other individuals or would prefer working in solitude is usually a product of a your upbringing and often somewhat of a personal choice but we cannot deny the fact that there is an added energy and combined talent that can only be generated and benefited from through collaboration with others.

One of the best examples I have experienced pertaining to the importance of working together was an engineering tradition at the university I went to in Ontario, Queen’s University. At Queen’s they have a traditional undertaking that the first year engineering students are challenged to see if they can fulfill in order to officially call themselves an engineering class year. It is known as the Queen’s grease pole. The pole is a metal football goalpost that is almost 30 feet tall and was originally stolen by Queen’s engineering students from the University of Toronto’s Varsity Stadium in 1955.

Each year, the second year engineering students and other more senior students prepare the challenge by placing the pole upright in a huge pit of muddy water known as the grease pit. The grease pit is about 40 feet in diameter and the muddy, grease-filled water is about four feet deep on average. The outside surface of the pole itself is covered in a thick layer of lanolin grease before it is erected in the pit to make it extremely slippery. This is to ensure that it is impossible to get a grip on the outside surface.

There is a hat, known as a Queen’s tam, nailed to the top of the pole and the goal is for the first year student to figure out a way to get the tam off of the top of the pole. I participated in the climb when I was a freshman at Queen’s and also helped set-up and oversee the engineering students beneath me the subsequent years. The five or six hundred first year students are to enter the muddy pit and wade their way to the center where the grease pole is standing proud. As a group they must devise a way to build a pyramid of people in order to reach the top, because climbing the grease-covered pole is not possible by other means.

I participated in the event each year for the four years I was attending Queen’s and I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Every year, the students would eagerly rush the pit and haphazardly start stacking themselves upon one another around the pole. With hundreds of students being involved, ten or twenty students would take on the self-appointed role as leader and would start shouting directions at the other students over the hectic splashing, yelling and the loud music that is always played. The directions are of course are conflicting with one another and are mostly lost in the confusion. Sometimes the students are able to build the base of pyramid with a hundred people or so all linking arms and then ten or twenty students start clambering up onto the second layer, stepping on people shoulders and heads as they rush to surround the pole on the second level. Within the first few hours of attempts, sometimes even the second layer of people is strong enough that a hand full of students scrambles up to the third layer. There are always many students who want to be the one person who makes it to the fourth level and reaches the tam so they make frantic efforts to move up as fast as they can. However, the unorganized attempts invariably fail. Time after time the huge pyramid of students collapses upon itself pushing many students under the muddy water until they are able to fight their way to the surface.

This apparent chaos continues hour after hour, one failed attempt after another until pure exhaustion begins to set in and the students begin to step back and think about how they can prevail. They begin to plan how they will work together to get the result that they as an engineering year are striving for. At that point the strategy changes a bit. Students stop trying to scramble to the top as fast as they can with each attempt. They realize that if they want to succeed they need to be organized and work together.

Once the mentality changes, they slow down and begin to listen to each other and bond together as one group working towards a common cause. They begin building a strong base before allowing people to climb to the second level. Once the base is ready they permit the slow and controlled ascent of a few students that are allowed to climb to the second level. Twenty to thirty students eventually reach the pole on the second level and form a strong cluster of students there as well, linking their arms around each others around and keeping their backs to the pole. The same is done with five or six students on the third level of the pyramid and eventually a single student is send up from the muddy pit below to climb on top of the students on the base, second and third levels until they are able to reach the tam at the top of the pole. It is only when the students decide to work together as one collective unit that they are able to reach their goal. After hours and hours of failed attempts, to finally achieve their target as a group is an incredible thing to see and it creates a level of very strong camaraderie and bonding within the group.

This is just one simple example of the benefits and results that can be achieved though organized teamwork. In a business environment the importance of working together is even more pronounced. Companies spend millions of dollars every year on programs and initiatives to try to get their employees to work together efficiently. Whether the goal is production, product sales or the supply of services, the results are much more effective when the employees work together as one integrated team. Athletics is another wonderful example. The teams that win are the teams where the players have learned to set aside their own selfishness and work with each other to come out ahead.

In problem solving, being able to draw on solutions from different people makes the process more efficient and almost always generates better solutions. Bringing people together allows them to combine their mental capacity to increase their overall capability. In fact many great ideas are born from this combining of minds and ideas. In virtually all areas of life the benefits can be seen of working together with others.