Many moons ago, in my youth (and I do mean many moons ago!), I belonged to a rowing club. On summer evenings, or early (and I do mean early) on a frosty winter morning, a group of us would set out from Putney, West London, for a training session on the Thames (usually with the annual Head of the River race in our sights). Depending on who showed up, we would often row as a ‘four’ or an ‘eight’, much more sociable than a single or double scull.
The ultimate was a group of eight competent, team-oriented rowers. The high that one gets from rowing in a well-balanced, sympathetic eight is utterly exhilarating – gliding through the water at more than 8-times the rate that one individual could achieve. OK, granted, the whole beautiful experience can be fouled up by one incompetent or thoughtless rower who’s not in perfect (or at least reasonable) harmony with the rest, but in terms of ‘bang for your buck’ there’s little to beat that feeling when you’re all pulling together in the same direction, at the same time.
Last week a team of colleagues, 20+ of us, helped out at a local shelter housing project…just a few hours…one short afternoon. I was blown away by what we were able to achieve in such a short time. As an individual, I played oh such a small part, but my sense of achievement was magnified 20+ times. We made a difference…I made a difference, but only as part of the We. The tasks we completed would not have been feasible if individuals had volunteered the same amount of time, but on different days. The whole was definitely greater than the sum of the parts.
The personal satisfaction I gained from that project was similar to my memories of rowing, in that it was measured by what we achieved as a group, not just my contribution.
If I stop to think about it, I’m lucky enough to have frequent, similar experiences in my regular working day. I’m part of a well-balanced team (yes, Ken’s one for all, and all for one team), and although I may feel my individual achievements are not that spectacular on their own, they contribute to the whole. We all pull together. My job is so much easier because of the collaborative and selfless efforts of those around me – those who’ve tackled a problem, and taken time to share the solution to save the rest of us the effort, or those who go out of their way to help a team mate in any area outside of their own expected responsibilities. The team as a whole is far more productive when each individual benefits xxx-fold from those combined efforts.
Of course, the positive and productive effect of a ‘we team’ can be even more powerful when extended beyond team boundaries to an entire enterprise. As the buzz continues around the emerging technologies enabling business social networking, David Wilkins’ article From Human Resources to Human ‘We’-Sources (this week’s issue of Talent Management magazine) points out that there has been a lot less talked about “how to successfully use these technologies in the enterprise”, and that “the main risk factor is not technology, but rather culture and change management” (my italics not his). A related comment was made by Meg in her post on Integrated Talent Management, good strategy or fad: “Solution is great, but please tell me that you are clear on what problems you want to solve” (her bold not mine!).
David summarizes: “a Web 2.0 company is not about “you and me;” it’s about “we.” It’s a company in which management taps the collective wisdom of its people; where openness and transparency leads to greater success than risk; and where connections between people matter more than intellectual property.”
In a team meeting this week, Meg took time (in fact, pretty much the entire meeting) to acknowledge our achievements, not in the number of technical issues resolved, check boxes checked, or lines of code written, but in terms of team collaboration and support – the number of times someone gives thanks to another for help above-and-beyond, or kudos for a job well done that benefited others. It’s important to take time out to recognize how much our individual contributions affect others. In doing so, it encourages everyone to do their best, despite individual set-backs or frustrations…and, when we all do our best, we each reap additional benefits from the whole team doing their best together. In HR parlance, I and many of my colleagues are termed ‘individual contributors’. It’s easy to think sometimes that, as an individual contributor, one’s efforts pale into insignificance in the great scheme of things, but they sure can add up when you’re a team player.