Unified purpose and mutual commitment essential for strong teamwork

A recent post on the qualityg says … blog includes a fun little story that illustrates the power of teamwork.

A few years ago while teaching a quality class I broke the class into their natural work teams (8-10 people) to evaluate some case studies. I asked them to agree as a team on how they would determine the problem, identify the causes, make solutions and standardize the process. After about twenty minutes it was quite apparent that there was a lot of dissension between the team members as to how the problems should be addressed. In order to get them to work in harmony I had the folks stop and observe an exercise.


I grabbed a number of pencils and passed out a single pencil to each team member in one of the groups. I also put 10 pencils together and taped them together in a bundle. I asked each person individually to break their pencil. With little difficulty each member snapped it in half. I then passed around the bundle to each member and asked them to break them in half. All tried and failed to break them all in one try.

The moral of the story is that when team members are united, the team is strong. Conversely, individuals (like the single pencils) can easily be broken.

I’ve found two things to be essential for team unity: 1) a common objective that everyone can get behind, and 2) a culture of commitment to one another. Without a clear objective, a highly committed team will fail to achieve. Without a culture of commitment, team members will struggle to accomplish even the most concrete objectives.

If you find your team more like individual pencils than a solid bundle, take another look at whether the objective is clear and whether team members have embraced their commitments to one another.

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