Teams can be viewed as the broccoli of work life—many people can’t stand them, even if they’re supposed to be good for you. (Mindfulness may be turning into the brussels sprouts of the workplace, but that’s for a future post.) Being on a team for many people is something unpleasant one is required to do, just as many children (and some adults) are told to eat their vegetables. Unfortunately, unpleasant experiences on teams do abound: the team member who doesn’t do his share (or takes credit for yours), conflict, confusion, delays, and general frustration.
Yet in today’s organizations, where we pursue lofty and challenging goals, working interdependently is necessary. Complex work that requires creativity and marshalling a variety of resources pretty much demands effective teams.
And, I would argue, the poor team experiences many of us have had are not due to inherent problems with teams, per se, but with our beliefs about what teams are and how they should work. The simplistic image of a work team is reflected in stock photo images (such as the one here) of ultra-happy business people with their arms raised in victory. Yeah, right; that’s what team meetings are like.
Furthermore, many people believe that each team member must selflessly sacrifice for the good of the collective project —after all, as motivational posters and coffee mugs extol, “There is no I in TEAM.” Sorry, that’s not true (unless we are just referring to how the word “team” is spelled). Actually we bring our individual gifts, needs, hopes, and blind spots—the whole suitcase of stuff we each carry around that makes us who we are—into the teams we are part of. So the problem is that teams are typically established and run without taking into account that real people, with their unique strengths and weaknesses, comprise the teams.
Next, I’ll offer an exercise you can use to start creating a shared sense of who the real people on a team are.