Teamwork is hard

Fleur Perry is our regular Horizons writer and also editor of our sister site, Disability United. Today she shares her thoughts on the good and bad of team work. Listen up disability activists…

Not so long ago, in one of my other lives, I went on a team building exercise. It’s no secret to anyone who’s worked with me that I prefer to work on my own, explore an idea, crunch some numbers, draw a diagram, and hopefully create something awesome. It’s not that I hate people, it’s just that in order to think deeply about something and do my thing, I need a bit of space, even just for a few minutes. That’s why I enjoy writing so much, I have the freedom to do something I enjoy, in my own time. I’ll sometimes discuss my theme with people first, maybe get a second opinion on an idea, but the actual writing, just me, a touchpad mouse, and a large cup of tea… I could do that forever.

So imagine how much I love team building: a large group of people who don’t know each other very well eating a cold buffet (another of my pet hates) and trying to balance an egg on straws and sticky tape in under 2 minutes. It won’t just be the egg that will crack before the end. I’d be terrible if I went on The Crystal Maze, even on the mental challenges, unless Richard Ayoade temporarily duct-taped the mouths of the other competitors.

Luckily, there were biscuits and a sensible discussion about how to work better as a team and work with each others’ strengths and weaknesses. Unsurprisingly, it was identified that I prefer quiet, detailed activities and carefully asking lots of questions to excitedly thinking out loud and doing everything really quickly. Not shocked.

But one of the key points of the sensible discussion was that you need a bit of everything in a good team. You need detail people, and idea people, and action people, and people people. And as I went home, I absent-mindedly tried to figure out who did what in the Disability United team, and I reckon we’ve got a pretty good team, with at least one of each.

Why stop there? Do the people who write about and investigate and campaign for and care about progress in the rights of disabled people act as a good team?

There are certainly a good mixture of detail people, idea people, action people, and people people. It could also be said that there are a good mixture of detail organisations, idea organisations, action organisations, and people organisations. However I’m not convinced we always work as a team.

There’s organisations that won’t work with other organisations for historical reasons, and people who won’t work with other people because of something they said 3 years ago. There’s a deep distrust of research in some quarters, and a dislike of how some organisations make money and what they do with it. There are disagreements over which issue is “more important”, and the best way to highlight it and sort it out.

It can get… awkward when you’re talking to 2 organisations that could actually help each other if they were on speaking terms. Or when political change can only be carried out by a politician that nobody wants to be in the same room with.

It’s hard to sit down opposite someone you find impossible, look them in the eye and tell them “This is the problem, and this is what we’re going to do about it.” To even use the word “We” instead of “You” or “Them” or things unsuitable for typing before 9pm. That’s energy that can be used somewhere else, and often is.

Disabled People’s Organisations, charities, campaign groups, universities and lone voices all have plenty of big and small reasons, good reasons, not to work with each other. But I can’t help wondering if we’d get more done if we did…

By Fleur Perry

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