“What we reach for may be different, but what makes us reach is the same”

This quote from Mark Nepo, a poet and philosopher, describes my thoughts while watching Lindsey Vonn reach the bottom of the hill in the Women’s Downhill race at the Winter Olympics.  Even though she had missed winning the gold medal by a fraction of a second, she quickly got out of her skis and grabbed her cell phone to alert her teammates at the top about the condition of the run.  How often do we pay attention to the larger goal over our own personal plan?  What makes the idea of “team” so much more important than our own identity?  What teams have you been on besides the one related to your work?  I feel that we were born into our first “team” – our family – and its influence, and the influence of the many teams we’ve been on throughout our lives, has followed us throughout.

Being part of a team has impacted who we have come to be. It helps shape our relationships, our identification as an individual and as a team member. As you contemplate how your involvement in teams have shaped you, consider the following:

  1. What was your position on your family team? How is that similar now to your position at work?  Were you valued as a leader or did you feel that you needed to wait and follow your parents or your siblings before asserting your own thoughts or feelings?
  2. Did you volunteer and feel excited about becoming active with team sports, social clubs, and community action groups? Did you readily accept leadership roles, or did you seek to hide your talents and only participate when drafted and encouraged by close friends and coworkers?
  3. What teams do you belong to now as an adult and as a team member at work? Are you actively sharing your knowledge and skills?  Like Lindsey, are you reaching and sharing with those who are coming after you?

I shared with a friend, Dina, that I was exploring this topic and asked for her input.  She had been the founder and leader of a modern dance group in her earlier years.  She now plays piano for a dance studio and rarely dances herself anymore.  I remember how she strived for perfection in every body movement in herself and students. She carefully coached amateurs like myself who are not professional dancers in ways to maintain health and strength.  She is still a member of a similar team but plays a different role.  She shared that she had been highly criticized by her parents as a child and never felt good enough.  After gaining a level of excellence as a dancer, others gave her the attention and encouragement that helped her to feel more positive and confident about her own talents.  This made her commitment to the team even more important.  She gave, and she received.  Now, she is careful to think of “coaching” rather than criticizing.  Dina enjoys the identity of being a necessary part of her team at work.

Being a member of a team helps shape our identity. It provides us the opportunity to use our experience to guide other team members who face similar rough spots as we have. Some attributes of a winning team include: 

  • Enabling two-way communication that embraces diverse perspectives and invites feedback, innovation and new ideas
  • Providing positive feedback as well as sharing opportunities for improvement.
  • Leveraging each other’s strengths by filling in when you can or asking for help when you need it
  • Holding regularly-scheduled meetings with team members to keep initiatives on track, brainstorm new ideas, make decisions and build camaraderie
  • Scheduling social as well as professional times together to develop rapport and deepen relationships

As you think of the qualities of a high-functioning team, the foundation is trust.  And, in the words of Patrick Lencioni from his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, “Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”  

I hope you will take time and review your life connections in the many teams that you have experienced.  Take what was good and helpful about these experiences and think of ways to put more of that into your work teams, family groups, committees, and other team to which you belong.  Post a comment to share ideas that will be helpful to other readers of our blog.  We all want to be on a winning team.

Like Lindsey Vonn, when we get to the bottom of the hill, let’s remember to let the rest of the team members know how we did it and where the wind and ice make it more difficult so they can better navigate it - helping us all win!

With Warm Regards,