We focus on what individuals do for their teams but rarely on what teams do for them. Are we wrong?
The prevailing view tells us that a team is only as good as the abilities, strengths and cohesion of its members, that its productivity depends on having the “right people” on the bus. The individuals are the inputs — team effectiveness, the goal.
It’s time we reconsider. The new world order caused by COVID-19 demands a new mindset.
As individuals, we are deeply affected by the teams and groups to which we belong. They shape our social identity, give us purpose and invite us to consider a common good that is greater or more urgent than our own. We define ourselves by the organizations we work for, the teams that rely on us and the communities or groups to which we belong.
In the wake of this pandemic, however, we are on our own, working at home and disconnected from these very groups. It’s not surprising that many of us are in pain, feeling lonely, isolated, adrift and a bit rudderless.
A college freshman now connected to his classes online recently confided his own struggle to a Books@Work professor. Deprived of his participation on the now-cancelled swim team, he was lethargic and sad. Without his teammates, his practice schedule and the rhythm imposed by his team obligations, he found himself unable to get out of bed and unsure where to derive his energy or place his focus.
This fragile dependence on the social identity offered by a team is easy to see with sports teams.
But it’s equally true of our workplace teams. Our individual strengths are bolstered and encouraged by the teams to which we belong. When we personally contribute to a team’s shared purpose, we amplify our sense of value and meaning. We rise to the occasion when others count on us in ways we simply don’t when we are working alone.
In short, the team brings out the best in each of us. But the current situation has ripped us from our teams, sent us home and asked most of us to make do on our own.
Now more than ever, we must invest in our teams – for the sake of the individual members as much as the performance of the team. We need to make an extra effort to bring teams together, to support their members and allow them to remember why they belong to the groups they hold dear.
It’s not about adding on more work – many of us are swamped right now! It’s about preserving the culture we build at the watercooler, bolstering relatedness and fostering collaboration. It’s about helping teams to find the time to step back, share ideas, reflect collectively and be creative.
And to nurture the team player in each and every one of us.