How To Work Together Is As Clear As Mud

Shirley Koaho laments the fact that we are often encouraged to work together but aren’t taught how to. Many women mess it up royally despite the obvious benefits. Luckily Shirley shares pointers, gleaned from her life experience, on how to be a super team player – to the benefit of all.


The theme for this year’s National Women’s Day and Women’s Month – as announced by the Minister for Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities – is “Working together for equal opportunities and progress for all women”.

I’ve often wondered about the intent behind the words: “working together“. It seems that it is taken for granted by all and sundry that once you’ve made the decision to work together then, with a drum-roll and much fanfare, we all just work together and understand why!

“You must learn to work together”, we say to recalcitrant team members, married couples who are barely holding it together, quibbling siblings. The problem is, no one ever tells you how to do it.

This August, being Women’s month and all, I’d like to encourage women out there to take some time out and get to understand what working together means, and how to go about doing it. Why? Because women not working together is often the reason why we struggle to break the glass ceiling at work; why we don’t learn how to support other women who need our assistance out there; why we take each other for granted and mess up opportunities and slow down our progress.

I’ve come up with a personal Team Player 101 from my life experience:

  1. Learn to deal with human issues: It’s amazing how many of us go through life without a clear handle on the human psyche. It doesn’t take a degree in Psychology to do this but an ability and willingness to observe yourself, others and your environment is critical in navigating your way through life with others.
  2. Get real with yourself: Working in a predominantly female environment, I have a large sample to observe and monitor. Many women out there are great at blowing air up their own skirts and then bemoan their lack of progress. Get real sisters! Do a quick skills check with others in the same space. In fact, acknowledge that there are others in the same space.
  3. Learn to play to your strengths and not to your weaknesses: My mother didn’t know Marcus Buckingham when she taught me this one – I’m sure she would have made a lot of money if she’d written a book about it 40 years ago. When I showed a clear preference for Maths, Science, Biology and English at school, my mother sent me for Maths, Science, Biology and English extra lessons. Not Xhosa, which I was dismal at. Not Geography, which I hated with a passion. But the subjects I was good at, with the intention of making me even better than I was. I came first in South Africa in English, in my matric year. I learnt that lesson well. Your weakness might be someone else’s strength, so why should you bother with it when you have someone else to lean on? Makes working together a cinch, don’t you think?
  4. Enjoy others: You’ll enjoy others if you engage with them. This whole thing of “I’m shy, I’m an introvert” works when you’re in high school, not in the adult world. Be an introvert in your own time, at home, in your bathroom. Other people are put on this earth to interact with us. Learn to enjoy it and see the richness it will bring into your life, as well as the phenomenal progress you’ll make in this world.

I’m still making my way through life, learning lessons as I go along. Maybe you can teach me or someone else a thing or two, so let’s start engaging.

By Shirley Koaho

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