Allie and I have been doing a lot of crosswords lately. While half the fun is yelling at Will Shortz when a clue is weak, the other half is in working together to solve a problem. And in the process, I’ve noticed something I find interesting. Teamwork can be about unlocking each others’ potential.

In this particular case, we had just done a Thursday crossword in record time, and I congratulated Allie on a job well done together. She countered that I had done three-quarters of the puzzle, and that she didn’t feel like she’d contributed her fair share. I however, felt that she had been crucial, and I realized it was because if she hadn’t been there doing this crossword with me, I would have been stuck at one-fifth and never completed it.

It was a very clear illustration to me of how teamwork, particularly in a complex creative task, is not about everyone doing the same amount of a generic and commoditized work, but rather about doing the right thing at the right time to help the team as a whole achieve more than the individuals would.

I’ve also been reading some pieces lately about Google’s Project Aristotle. It seems to come to a similar lesson, but in more concrete terms: a group’s effectiveness and intelligence is determined by the degree to which the members of the group can all contribute.

I think it’s worth remembering that effort and labor don’t just fill up a meter, and ding when it’s done. The complex web of human relations can make it hard to attribute success to any one piece of the system.