Editorial: Together Everyone Achieves More | AIChE

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Editorial: Together Everyone Achieves More


This is an expanded version of the Editorial that appeared in the print version of Chemical Engineering Progress, February 2017.

Together Everyone Achieves More

One reason I love my job so much is the CEP editorial staff. Publishing CEP is truly a team effort. While each editor has individual responsibilities, we work together in many ways — from brainstorming ideas for the cover, to serving as a second set of eyes for another’s article, to taking on extra tasks to help ease a coworker’s heavier-than-normal workload. Usually all of the editors read my editorials and offer suggestions; some of the best titles were their ideas, not mine.

The week before we send an issue to the printer is our busiest time of the month, and I avoid scheduling vacation, appointments, or other discretionary activities that would keep me out of the office during that time. Unfortunately, I had to travel to attend a funeral the week before this issue went to press. So I needed to rely on the other editors to handle some of the reading and checking of pages that I normally do, on top of their own responsibilities.

Yet I was not concerned because I knew what a strong team we have, and I trusted that they would step up to the challenge. Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith, in their book The Wisdom of Teams, define a team as “a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they are mutually accountable.”

Last year, I experimented with assignments aimed at strengthening our team’s common purpose, performance goals, and mutual accountability. As part of their annual performance review, three editors had as a goal “deliver one ‘Surprise Cindy’ article, taking full responsibility — backed up by the rest of the CEP team — from acceptance through printing of the issue, and support the other editors on their Surprise Cindy articles.” To appreciate this leap of faith, keep in mind that I normally see almost all of the content of every issue at least three times. I didn’t see the Surprise Cindy articles until I received the issue.

I’m happy to report that the experiment was a success. We did not tell people outside of the editorial team which issues contained those articles, which articles they were, or which editor was responsible for them, and as far as I know, readers did not notice anything out of the ordinary. This year, each editor will deliver two Surprise Cindy articles. (Because I’m writing about them, this is a “Surprise the Editors” editorial, which they will not see until they get the issue.)

What makes us such an effective team? We have what leadership coach Luis Romero calls positive synergy — the combination of common interests, common values, and complementary talents that makes our collective performance better than the sum of our individual performances. When people share common interests, they find personal affinities that help them work together, seek opportunities to leverage each other’s talents, and measure the results of their collective efforts with respect to their common goal. When people share common values, they can forge strong, long-lasting alliances; people who share the values of humility, honesty, trust, and discipline achieve the highest synergies. And, because teamwork is based on team members helping each other, when people have complementary talents, they can overcome adversity, stay focused, and achieve success more efficiently.

All of us can put into practice some of the key lessons that Jim Taggart, a thought-leader who writes about leadership and teamwork, saw emerge from Eco-Challenge 2000, a multi-day expedition race that is considered the genesis for reality television shows such as Survivor and The Amazing Race:

• Park your differences; focus on what needs to be done.

• Take time to share in the joy of your experience.

• Don’t criticize other team members behind their back.

• Commit to the team.

• Maintain a sense of humor, even when everything seems lost.

• Celebrate your wins, however small.

• Support one another, in both good and bad times.

Edit: And what a team they are! As soon as we got the issue, one editor told me to read the first sentence of  the third paragraph. I had left out the word "the" that you now see in red. Proof that together everyone achieves more.

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