It’s easy to group the world into two groups (us and them) but it is almost always counterproductive.

The worst thing about US politics these days is Republicans and Democrats. Keep in mind that these are private organizations that talk about their members doing public service while their primary purpose is to further entrench their own interests while making money. Too many individuals believe they have to pick one of these two teams even though there’s very little room for nuance once you pick a side.

While this isn’t a post about politics, that example is perfect for what happens when you start dividing things into two teams. Almost all sports are about two teams facing off and having a winner and loser. Wars are usually positioned as two sides fighting between good and evil with winners and losers.

There is power in the story of us versus them. It instantly gives individuals a framing for their behavior and an understanding of who they are competing against. Even without additional direction, this framing gives momentum to future actions in the direction of us versus them and striving for “victory.”

Most things in life are not zero-sum, us-versus-them. It is almost never advantageous to divide up into two teams and go head-to-head. Staging pseudo-gladiator style matches between people may feel like something gets accomplished but more is lost. Battles don’t build a long-term culture, they focus on the short-term. Battles destroy the bonds between large numbers.

Two teams take away our ability to focus on nuance. Nuance is important.

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Some stories are worth repeating regularly because they show the common bonds of teams.

Some people don’t like to hear the same stories over and over. You know the type of story I’m referencing: the ones that always come out after 4 beers to groans, laughs, and quiet smirks. The stories could be a decade old but they still come out as if they are fresh. These stories are worth bringing up regularly for a couple of reasons.

These stories reinforce the common bonds between the team. They show that there have been shared events that have built the trust that is there. No matter whether things currently are good or bad, they give people something to fall back on. They form part of a shared experience that we can appreciate.

Another reason for these is that they give an opportunity for entry into the shared community. Being invited to listen in means that some part of the shared trust is being shared with you. Stories like these are not shared with just anyone. There is more than just words to the story that you are being invited to. Hearing stories of years before means that you should expect to start being involved in the next round of earned stories.

Repeating them over and over is worthwhile because the experiences relayed within them will change with time and context. There are morals about the participants in these stories. There are little ways for achieving victory. There is an opportunity for renewed self-reflection on how to avoid the situation in the future or how to handle it better if it does come back around.

Don’t underestimate the power of these stories.

Don’t forget steps 1 through 3.

When working on something you feel comfortable with, it can be easy to look into the future at what you expect the final outcome to be. If you are simply trying to get through the process as quickly as possible it can be easy to just jump straight to what you think the final answer will be. There is danger here.

People are always a variable in a change process. People you aren’t familiar with will likely bring ideas with them you don’t have quick answers to. If you have a large team, you will have a large set of requirements and goals. If your team hasn’t worked together before, there will be a significant element around figuring out roles and responsibilities.

When projects go VERY wrong, it’s often because they forgot to do Steps 1 through 3 in the process plan.

  1. Figure out what you are really trying to achieve.
  2. Define the team, roles, and responsibilities for how you will get there and get buy-in from each.
  3. Define what success will look like at the end.

These may seem really basic (because they are) but the basics are what usually win the day. In sports, the players with the strongest fundamentals have the longest careers even if their upside isn’t the greatest. If you get the fundamentals right every time, your speed to a solution will go way up.

Note that this also applies even when working with teams you are familiar with on projects you’ve done a thousand times. People change and their goals change. At some point, people feel ready to take on more responsibility or have a life event which limits the time they can invest in this new one. Doing the blocking and tackling up front ensures you are focused on everyone you need to be.

Communication. It’s not hard. It’s everything.

Back to one of my favorite topics today, communication. It’s the center of everything. It’s actually even more important than that in real estate. There’s nothing worse than implementing some amazing new office only to learn the business had decided to double their headcount and they won’t fit. Communication.

Sadly, one of the main reasons that communication breaks down is “too much work.” When people get busy they don’t want to “waste time in meetings” or “spend all day answering emails” or “stop and chat on the phone.” Said another way: they get too busy to communicate.

I’ll be the first to argue that many meetings are a waste of time. Some days it feels like many meetings are primarily a way for some people to appear busy without achieving anything at all. Other meetings feel like they are ripe with potential to achieve great outcomes only to be foiled by poor planning. Communication without thought is often worse than no communication at all. At least with no communication people may feel compelled to use their best judgment.

Communicating is the core component to every job. You need to be able to relay the thoughts in your head. You need to be able to convey the needs of your team. You need to be able to receive the current state of your partners. You need to be open to understanding your vendors. You need to be able to participate in group decisions.

On the surface, communication isn’t hard. But somehow most people fail at successful communication much of the time. Even successful communicators sometimes forget what to do.

Internal competition and desires to win does not make the situation a zero sum game

It is really easy to fall into the trap of thinking someone else’s victory is your defeat. That their achievement makes you seem smaller.

This thinking is so wrong as to be dangerous. Internal teams may compete and even keep score but the competition must be friendly. There are not winners and losers. My success does not diminish your own.

In fact, our collective successes may even enhance the individual achievements.

Any action (solo or collective) that enhances the business helps everyone else. Any other way of thinking is destructive to long-term group achievement.

Inefficiency can rise from overly flexible work hours.

One of the great things about agile working/work-from-home is the ability to set your own hours. When your performance is measured based on what you actually do, you are liberated from the need to simply tick a timecard.

There is a downside to this flexibility. When your peak productive hours vary dramatically from those of your colleagues, you lose the ability to leverage each other effectively. The misalignment of these hours leads to a reduced ability to ask questions, longer time between back and forth responses, and less ability to brainstorm outside of the day-to-day tasks.

My favorite part of being part of a team is learning from the people around me. I love to learn and ask questions and get an insight into areas I’m not intimately involved in. I definitely try to work on the timezones and schedules of those around me to take advantage. Are you doing the same to ensure you are not just a cog in the machine?

What is the value that you, personally, add to your team?

A good team is comprised of members that make each other better. Teams built to shore up individual weaknesses while also having broad capabilities will generally have greater success.

The thing about teams is that they are built from individuals with all of their strengths, weaknesses, quirks, idiosyncrasies, personal lives, and future plans. Over any given period of time, individual motivations and capabilities will change – sometimes dramatically and unexpectedly. Dealing with this reality is what will make teams successfully over the long run.

Great team dynamics start with self-reflection (yet another idea that I love). Understanding your personal shortcomings and areas for growth gives you the ability to ascertain that your team is there to help cover those areas. Asking for help is a sign of maturity, not a sign of weakness. 

Similarly, your strengths can become the strengths of others through your ability to support and lift up others. Your value gets maximized because you can share it with others. Life and work are not zero-sum games. One person’s success does not mean that someone else failed. One team’s success does not mean that another team failed. When things are hitting on all cylinders it is entirely possible for every team to be winning simultaneously.