The Intimacy of Teams

We (and by we I mean i) talk a lot about leadership and it’s importance in both business and life, but we (sorry for the third-person self-references, but I’m experiencing an Instagram “selfie” withdrawal at the moment) don’t say as much about the teams. I was writing a blog post on my upcoming “year of code” a few days ago and I realized how my desire to strengthen a specific skill set could potentially make me a better leader and team member.

As a student of several schools of leadership I often find my way back to the simple (reductionist) things. In this case Lou Holtz’s three questions for building teams (and relationships in general, really):

  1. Do I trust this person?
  2. Do they care about me?
  3. Do they share my same pursuit of excellence?

The third question is the starting driver for me here: can I truly share your drive for excellence without an solid (hopefully empirical) understanding of the passion, pain, and challenges you face?

At the surface this seems like a reach, but the more I think about it the more I’m convinced of its truth. Yes, teams have to bring different skills and experiences to to the table to be effective, but they can’t reach their full potential without tightening the connecting threads of experience that helps them understand each other better.

To put it a different way: I don’t have to be an accountant to understand the numbers, but it helps that I’ve built my share of revenue forecasts and cost models. I don’t have understand the intricacies of state labor laws or benefits packages to work with HR, but it helps that I’ve created a few comp plans or coached a few team members. My experiences in these respective areas makes me a better team member because it gives be an intuitive understanding of other team members, what go through, and what required to help them solve problems. This is a key ingredient to managing conflict.

As with everything else in life there’s a balancing act here. Too much specialization may create an unbalanced team member; too much generalization may create a dull edge (ineffective leadership or undervalued contributions). The trick here for any good leader (or team member) is having a wide enough range of things you’ve learned or done (in business and life) to aid you in cross functional “bridge-building”. It’s great to be an expert in a specific area- that’s usually why you are chosen for a team.  But the difference between good and great team members (and teams) lies in decreasing the gaps between us that thwart understanding, empathy, and (consequently) productive collaboration.

Its sounds a like a gross oversimplification. I know, but the fact of the matter is this: I don’t have to know your specific area of expertise to connect with you and build something great. I only have to be around it, beside it, through it, or have experienced it ways that allow me to understand you, trust you, and demonstrate our shared pursuit of excellence. Those experiences make for a better me, and help build better teams.

Again, I know this sounds easy but its not really- being a well-rounded person never is. I acknowledge the fact that this is a growth area for me so all I’ll say is be more, do more.




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