Do you ever notice that when you start to pay attention to something, you see it everywhere? For example, did you ever get a new car and next thing you know, you see other people with the same car in the same color all over the place even though you didn’t seem to see the car before?
What I’m seeing everywhere lately is not a specific car, but the way people talk about the work that other people are doing. Specifically, I’ve been picking up on people saying things like, “I can’t believe that person didn’t think to do it like this…” or “Why didn’t the person say _____ when that happened?!” The tone used when asking these rhetorical questions is one of criticism.
Listen, I can be an armchair quarterback myself. After all, it’s really easy to be on the sidelines and say that you could do it better, right? But, it’s a lot harder to be on the field. It’s also easy to be a Monday morning quarterback and say when things finished what you would have done differently. After all, it’s really easy to have the luxury of hindsight and say that you could do it better, right? But, it’s a lot harder to be on the field.
I was talking recently with a friend about how someone had asked me to look over their project as a second set of eyes. When giving the person feedback, I asked them a question about an aspect of the project they hadn’t yet even considered. While doing so, the armchair quarterback on my shoulder said critically, “What’s the matter with this person?! How come they didn’t think of this before I said it?!” I have to admit the on-the-field teammate on the other shoulder must have been asleep because she didn’t counter the armchair quarterback. Even so, I had enough good sense not to actually let my internal armchair quarterback speak her internal rhetorical question.
It was only when talking to my friend about the incident that the on-the-field teammate woke up. When she did, she said,
“Instead of being a critic and lamenting that the other person didn’t think of the idea first, what if you could be the teammate and be excited that you can contribute? What if instead of questioning the other person’s abilities, you instead celebrate that this is what teams do—support each other. What if you slowed down and recalled all the times when someone told you something that afterwards seemed obvious to them but you didn’t think of first? What if you remembered that the beauty of being on a team is that you don’t have to be everything to everyone which means you can count on your teammates to have your back. What if you put into practice your belief that the collective intelligence of the group is greater than what any one individual is capable of by themselves?”
I want to be on a team where we can respectfully debate ideas but not disrespectfully debate each other. I want to be on a team where there is trust and accountability within the team. These behaviors do not just happen—they are forged with conscious practice and effort over time. No one is perfect, including me, so if I want to be given grace by my teammates for when I drop the ball (which will happen because I’m human), I must show grace to my team. Times can be tough, but teams shouldn’t be. In fact, healthy, respectful, and functioning teams support each other when times are tough. Team support shortens the distance to the goal. Who wants to be on a team where people are competing with each other? I don’t. I need teammates. I do not need adversaries, hecklers, saboteurs, critics, or commentators. Those are the people in the cheap seat. I want to be on a team where we sit on the same bench, run towards the same endzone, and can count on each other.
Please do not think that I’m being a cheerleader right now. I’m not. Cheerleaders have a role to play, but cheerleaders are on the sidelines encouraging the players; cheerleaders are not the team members on the field. Cheerleaders are organized, choreographed, athletic fans of the players, but they are playing a different sport altogether. I am talking about the work it takes to be on the field as a player of the same game, in the same uniform, with the same goal. And, the reality is that teams cannot be externally competitive to achieve wins if they are internally competitive. Internal competition is a different game. Internal competition is a game where everyone on the team loses; external competition is a game where everyone on the team can win.
Vince Lombardi, who is considered by many to be one of the greatest coaches of all time, said,
“The challenge of every team is to build a feeling of oneness, of dependence on one another because the question is usually not how well each person performs, but how well they work together.”
To that I say, “game on!”
P.S. My catch this week is one of my favorite videos regarding collaboration and being a team is this one. In fact, this video is why I believe that we cannot be externally competitive if we're distracted by our internal competition with the people who are supposed to be our teammates.
"Ever see red? It's called being defensive, and turns out, it is the single greatest inhibitor to true collaboration. Jim Tamm shares years of experience in getting out of the red zone and cultivating a "green zone" attitude."
I promise you that watching this is a great investment of 15 minutes.
Jim Tamm is a former law professor and senior administrative law judge for the state of California. He mediated nearly 2,000 employment disputes and handed down legal decisions that impacted national labor policy. He’s worked for 40 years in the field of alliance building and conflict resolution, and is an expert in building collaborative workplace environments. He’s the author of “Radical Collaboration,” published in 2005.