Most of us do our best to avoid bacteria at all costs. But a surprising truth about these microscopic organisms reveals that they possess an important skill — one we humans may want to embrace.

Research shows that bacteria actually practice teamwork. When two strains of E. coli bacteria, each resistant to an antibiotic, are in an environment where both drugs are present they work together to survive.

So what does bacteria working together have to do with us — and why should you care?

Well, research also proves that teamwork is a core competency of highly-reliable organizations. Being reliable is important — and it is about more than simply avoiding accidents. Time and again we see that reliability is what separates successful companies from failures.

Whether you are an entrepreneur building a new business or have a role within an established company, you cannot wait until you are in survival mode to work together. If you wait until a crisis hits, then you are already too late.

However if you are a driven and motivated person, it can be all too easy to put achieving your goals above working with others. But if you want to succeed, you have to make teamwork a priority.

Here are four ways to make teamwork an integral part of your culture, whether you work in a remote team or on the same room:

Set clear goals
Clear goals allow you to make decisions quickly and recommit when the team gets off track. If you know what you are working toward, then you can avoid wasting time. Confusion is the enemy of collaboration — it stalls progress and often leads to conflict.

Share details
If everyone understands the full scope of the project (say a product roadmap presentation or go-to-market strategy), then the team is more likely to find solutions when tough problems arise. But if you do not share details, the team may spin their wheels and invest precious hours in a solution that does not consider all aspects or utilize all resources available.

Speak honestly
Working together does not mean agreeing on everything. Do not be afraid to put forth a different point of view. But know that when you say “no” to an idea or approach you need to be prepared to follow up with a strong explanation why that is not the way to go. Better yet — refer back to your goals so that everyone remembers what the desired outcome is.

Act with kindness
A collaborative environment requires kindness — it allows teams to stay calm and build strong relationships. Come to the table with a bad attitude and you’ll walk away with a bad outcome. Acknowledge the contributions of your team. Otherwise they will shut down and stop offering solutions.

Everyone wants to be thought of as highly reliable, no matter the size of your company or your role. Teamwork is the catalyst for success. A strong foundation of teamwork also has the added benefit of creating reliability internally — not just for your customers or partners, but for your colleagues as well.

It is not enough to have a unique idea or lead a huge company. Left in isolation, you will never realize your full potential. Work together and you might just achieve greatness.

So let’s take a cue from the lowly bacteria and work together. After all, our survival depends on it.

How do you encourage collaboration at your workplace?

Originally published on the Aha! blog