Working in Teams – Part 1

Over the years of managing and teaching, we regularly have to form teams to get something done.  Most of the time we just do it, rather than being intentional about it. When I am at my best, I remember to spend time at the beginning establishing a context and some “rules for being” while working in teams.  This is the first post of several on the context for working in teams.

The following are a set of heuristics for working in teams:

    • Communication is the results that you get, not the words that you speak.  If what you are doing isn’t working, TRY something else.
    • People can’t not communicate.
    • People need what they need, not what we happen to be best at.
    • We unconditionally accept where you are, but respect you enough to help you strive for your ideal.
    • Listen without the motor running.
    • Move from “No, but…” to “Yes, and …”  Be generative, not blocking of creative energy.

However it is hard to beat Lewis Carroll in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for getting at the fundamental challenge that faces any team or project:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

 “That depends a great deal on where you want to get to,” said the cat.

“I don’t care much where . . .” said Alice.

 “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the cat.

 “. . . so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

 “Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

Rules for Being Human

One of my esteemed Human Resources executive colleagues, Barney Barnett, starts his team building sessions with the following rules for being human:

  1. You will receive a body.  You may like it or hate it, but it will be yours for the entire period this time around.
  2. You will learn lessons.  You are enrolled in a full-time informal school called life.  Each day in this school you will have the opportunity to learn lessons.  You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant and stupid.
  3. There are no mistakes, only lessons.  Growth is a process of trial and error experimentation.  The “failed” experiments are as much a part of the process as the experiment that ultimately “works.”
  4. A lesson is repeated until it is learned.  A lesson will be presented to you in various forms until you have learned it.  When you have learned it, you can then go on to the next lesson.
  5. Learning lessons does not end.  There is no part of life that does not contain its lessons.  If you are alive, there are lessons to be learned.
  6. “There” is no better than “here.”  When your “there” has become a “here,” you will simply obtain another “there” that will, again, look better than “here.”
  7. Others are merely mirrors of you.  You cannot love or hate something about another person unless it reflects to you something you love or hate about yourself.
  8. What you make of your life is up to you.  You have all the tools and resources you need.  What you do with them is up to you.  The choice is yours.
  9. Your answers lie inside you.  The answers to life’s questions lie inside you.  All you need to do is look, listen, and trust.
  10. You will forget this.

The following principles are important for staying creatively engaged while working in a team and are intended to help us BE:

    • In Context
    • In Contact
    • In Command

A principle is a thought used to direct actions.  The dictionary defines a principle as “a governing law of conduct by which one directs one’s life or actions.”  The following principles have been found to be important in ensuring success in team meetings:

  1. If you are feeling uncomfortable, this is a sign that you are about to move to a place you want to be.  The reason behind this principle is that discomfort indicates a disconnect between new information and the way you operated in the past.  By not bringing the discomfort to conscious attention, you are robbing yourself of energy.
  2. If you are feeling confused, this is a sign that you are about to learn something.  The reasoning behind this is that we are taught from birth to kill the process of creation that flourishes within us.
  3. Take stewardship for the context and the quality of your own learning by raising questions about anything you don’t understand.  The reasoning behind this principle is that an amazing amount of energy is wasted if you build on a foundation of misunderstanding.
  4. Self-accountability for staying in contact with the desired outcomes and the integrity of the process of an interaction before starting.   The reason behind this principle is that we want our minds to be creative toward accomplishing our purposes, not interrupted or dissipated by lack of clarity or what we are doing, or why or how we are doing it.
  5.  Being responsible for being in command of your own motivation by testing for personal and organizational relevance of what we are working through.  The reasoning behind this principle is that without maintaining a personal connection, the subjects we are working on will not be understood or adequately put into action.

The Rabbi’s Gift

To form any lasting group of people, there must be an abiding and enduring respect that each of the participants has for others and for themselves.  Scott Peck in A Different Drum relates a story he calls The Rabbi’s Gift that gets at the heart of the extraordinary respect that must be a part of all of our valued relationships.

“There is a story, perhaps a myth.  Typical of mythic stories, it has many versions.  Also typical, the source of the version I am about to tell is obscure.  I cannot remember whether I heard or read it, or where or when.  Furthermore, I do not even know the distortions I myself have made in it.  All I know for certain is that this version came to me with a title.  It is called “The Rabbi’s Gift.”

“The story concerns a monastery that had fallen upon hard times.  Once a great order, as a result of waves of antimonastic persecution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the rise of secularism in the nineteenth, all its branch houses were lost and it had become decimated to the extent that there were only five monks left in the decaying mother house:  the abbot and four others, all over seventy in age.  Clearly it was a dying order.

“In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used for a hermitage.  Through their many years of prayer and contemplation the old monks had become a bit psychic, so they could always sense when the rabbi was in his hermitage.  “The rabbi is in the woods, the rabbi is in the woods again,” they would whisper to each other.  As he agonized over the imminent death of his order, it occurred to the abbot at one such time to visit the hermitage and ask the rabbi if by some possible chance he could offer any advice that might save the monastery.

“The rabbi welcomed the abbot at his hut.  But when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit, the rabbi could only commiserate with him.  “I know how it is,” he exclaimed.  “The spirit has gone out of the people.  It is the same in my town.  Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore.”  So the old abbot and the old rabbi wept together.  Then they read parts of the Torah and quietly spoke of deep things.  The time came when the abbot had to leave.  They embraced each other.  “It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years,” the abbot said, “but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here.  Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help me save my dying order?”

“No, I am sorry,” the rabbi responded.  “I have no advice to give.  The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.”

“When the abbot returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, “Well, what did the rabbi say?”

“He couldn’t help,” the abbot answered.  “We just wept and read the Torah together.  The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving — it was something cryptic — was that the Messiah is one of us.  I don’t know what he meant.”

“In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any possible significance to the rabbi’s words.  The Messiah is one of us?  Could he possibly have meant one of us monks here at the monastery?  If that’s the case, which one?  Do you suppose he meant the abbot?  Yes, if he meant anyone he probably meant Father Abbot.  He has been our leader for more than a generation.  On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas.  Certainly Brother Thomas is a holy man.  Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light.  Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred!  Elred gets crotchety at times.  But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people’s sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right.  Often very right.  Maybe the rabbi did mean Brother Elred.  But surely not Brother Phillip.  Phillip is so passive, a real nobody.  But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him.  He just magically appears by your side.  Maybe Phillip is the Messiah.  Of course the rabbi didn’t mean me.  He couldn’t possibly have meant me.  I’m just an ordinary person.  Yet supposing he did?  Suppose I am the Messiah?  O God, not me.  I couldn’t be that much for You, could I?

“As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah.  And on the off, off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.

“Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, it so happened that people still occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even now and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate.  As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed this aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place.  There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it.  Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray.  They began to bring their friends to show them this special place.  And their friends brought their friends.

“Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks.  After a while one asked if he could join them.  Then another.  And another.  So within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the rabbi’s gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality in the realm.”

I unconditionally accept where you are, but respect you enough to help you strive for your ideal.

This entry was posted in Ask and Tell, organizing, Working in teams. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Working in Teams – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Mentoring Idea Stage Startups | On the Way to Somewhere Else

  2. Pingback: First, Second and Third Raters | On the Way to Somewhere Else

  3. Pingback: On Civility | On the Way to Somewhere Else

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