When you read those words, what emotions and memories are evoked? While it depends on your actual experience, my guess is you can relate to some of the following situations. There is that one dominant person who tries to tell everyone what to do. They have an opinion on every single thing. They might even formally “appoint” themselves as the leader. Perhaps there are two who want to be dominant, and a power struggle breaks out from the start. Much of the conversation and group energy goes to figuring out who will have the final say on what happens.
Or maybe you are the only responsible person in the group. No matter how you split up the work, every time you get together you end up taking on a little bit more. Eventually you end up doing the project by yourself because you want to make sure you get a decent grade – even if that means getting no help from the group. Maybe you have one person who is never “available” for a meeting. You spend the entire time leading up to the project deadline just hoping they are pulling their weight.
Or maybe if we’re honest about things, you are the one freeloading on someone else. You might justify things in a variety of ways. “The group will get a better grade if he/she does most of the work. That’s what we want, right?” Or maybe you think, “I’m so busy right now, I’ll just have to lean on everyone else. I’ll make it up on the next project.” Whatever your rationale, you know deep down you are not pulling your weight.
Whether it is the class project scenarios described above or something different, many of us have bad team experiences from the past that can color our outlook on the idea of working closely with others. Teaming is not easy, and unfortunately, for many, being asked to join a team often brings to mind more dread than anticipation.
Teaming is tough because it involves bringing multiple personalities, perspectives, and approaches together. It requires us to put aside the freedom that comes from doing everything our own way and instead invest relational effort in creating alignment and moving forward together, which can be a heavy lift. It’s true teams made poorly are a train wreck of frustration, stress, and angst. But it doesn’t have to be that way; teams can be made well. They can be a source of immense fulfillment, opportunity, and potential. Teams done right are life giving, but they have to be done right.
What is a Team Made Well?
Before we go any further, let’s be clear on what exactly a team is. One reason teaming is so hard for so many is because what we often call teams are not really teams at all but just groups of individuals working alongside one another. I believe this is actually the root of many people’s bad experiences. So, for the sake of this blog post, a team is a small group of people with a diverse set of strengths or skills who pursue a common goal.
Let’s take it a step further and define what we mean by a healthy team – a team made well. In order for teams to be sustainably successful, two things must occur:
- The team must be accomplishing its purpose.
- The people on the team must be fulfilled.
Teams are a tool, and tools have a purpose. So, a key measure of success for any team should be to what degree it is accomplishing that which it was formed to do. But that is only part of the equation. A team focusing only on performance may accomplish its goals in the short term, but if the team experience is not fulfilling for the members, this success will be short lived. Team members will either burn out, leave the team, or become disengaged and give less than their best. No matter how skilled the team members are, if they burn out, leave, or disengage, the team will never be high performing. Many teams struggle in one of these two areas.
Better Teams are Possible
When we focus on our own goals, our own desires, and our own benefits, the team suffers. But together, the team can accomplish more than the individual ever could.
When all the players serve each other and the common purpose of the team, everyone wins.
Teams can be fulfilling for their members. Whether your previous team experiences have been positive or negative, healthy teams are possible and they do exist. But they take hard work to build and hard work to grow. The beauty in the end is everyone benefits from healthy teams. Everyone shares in the success. Everyone parktakes in the fulfillment.
This blog post is an abridged excerpt from Team Work: 13 Timeless Principles for Creating Success and Fulfillment as a Team Member. If you’re interested in reading more from this book, you can click here.