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There IS an “I” in “TEAM” After All! – Authentic Invitation to Development in the Effective Work Group 

“There’s No ‘I’ in ‘Team?’ “Think Again!

As it turns out, there IS an “I” in “team;” more specifically, there is always an honoring of each team member’s true “I” in the effective work community. That’s what the new science on productivity in the workplace seems to indicate for work groups with goals that reach beyond mere repetitive task completion. “Teamwork” is an activity of the soul! The modern team produces its most valuable stuff when team members’ individual psychological, even spiritual, development is encouraged and facilitated in the work setting. Daniel Pink’s (Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, 2011) very recent and impressive research on why employees stay motivated in the most successful companies strongly suggests that effectiveness-stimulating environments for workers have some essential soul-developing aspects like: freedom for work team members to self-direct, fertile ground in which they can expand and grow as human beings, a firm connection between their assignments and a sense of personal purpose, and more. True team leadership, the kind that facilitates high performance, includes an ongoing authentic invitation to growth extended to each team member, an invitation built into the team’s structure, style, and set of expectations.

Effective Team Structure – The Invitation to Connect the True Self to the Work:

Whether it’s scheduling a weekly employee creative free day followed by a brain-storming beer bash, funding an extended relationship-building retreat in the mountains for volunteer staff, or re-educating hovering middle management to help them create hands-off, respectful, results-oriented environments for the talent; today’s savvy leaders of highly successful task teams make opportunities for their people to connect their true selves and true values to the work in front of them. Contact with the non-objectified self, the seat of both brilliant awareness and profound contribution, is what is invited by the psychologically insightful and spiritually awakened leader. This leader truly sees the developing humans in her work circle, consciously decides to make room for each team member’s unique unfolding process, and encourages the team members to do the same with each other. With that kind of direction, team members can continually re-spark with the excitement that comes with the inner experience of “my ideas matter here,” “their ideas matter here,” and “what we’re doing here matters.”

Ever had one of those inspiring directors who helped you and everyone on the project know and love that you were part of something bigger than yourself, yet also helped you realize that you were somehow bigger as a result of being involved? Those times in our lives are usually cherished because they are times when we were working in an atmosphere that enabled us to feel into that divine dignity that well-designed work really can offer human beings. As team participants, when we can experience this kind of connection between our real selves and the work world in which we are engaged, we harness the power source of deep personal meaning and remove obstacles to flow. “Flow” (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 1991) is that deeply satisfying, profoundly awake, highly productive state of being fully present with oneself while simultaneously being fully involved in an activity. It is often described as becoming “one with the work.” When we participate in work structures that allow for flow experiences throughout the workday, it invites us to connect the tasks of our “job” to the story of our unfolding career. We ground in an environment where deep breaths seem natural during presentations or creative sessions, we stay tuned in emotionally and delete those reactive sentences off of our email replies, we self-monitor our thought patterns and choose to stay engaged and curious at those 4 p.m. meetings. Our career is unfolding within the team experience, and we aren’t missing it!

The Effective Team Style: The Invitation to Meaning and Maturity

This potential for flow and meaning in work is a central aspect of the attractive compensation package for the twenty-first century work team member, as well as the new “golden parachute” that he looks forward to taking with him into the wisdom decades of later life. Volunteerism is on the rise in the U.S. because of this profound need for work that allows for presence of the human soul. Interestingly, flow and meaning potential cannot be catalyzed in team projects by simple-minded “carrot” rewards like big pay checks and sales bonuses. Compensation that matches the standard package available for a given service on the outside of the work group is a necessary baseline to keep people in the group motivated; however compensation systems that rely solely on the “if-then” reward model can severely distance workers from any sense of personal connection to the work. (Pink, 2011) Team members need to be invested in their work to feel truly compensated. And, generally speaking, unless we are having trouble paying our bills, most of us will not leave a work team that holds the promise of a reliable future of shared peak experiences with colleagues for a higher-paying job elsewhere, especially if that new job is unlikely to give us the same amount of meaning “hit” in our work day as our current one does.

Additionally, the work group itself has developmental needs, it has its own true “I” to uncover under its current operating “personality.” Each team has a style, and that style is functioning at a certain level of health, hovering at a certain distance from the real life potential and problems of the group. Is there so much defensive bravado flying around the coffee room at breaks that the camaraderie necessary for creative brainstorming never gels? Is there such an irresistibly strong ritual of positivity in meetings that there is a dearth of trouble-shooting and strategic planning? Are the morning updates admirably well-organized but so lacking in connection to the emotional temperature of the team project that no-one cares about the content? The team personality holds signals about directions of needed team growth and expansion, and clues about likely team blind spots and pitfalls.

Task-oriented groups are powerful, creative, organic entities; and they suffer from lack of consciousness and growth-orientation every bit as much as a person does. Don Riso (2010), a leading expert in Enneagram personality science, has recently done some much needed exploration and categorizing of these group personality composites in his current Nine Domains of the Enneagram of Personality material. The psychological and spiritual health of a group, just like that of an individual, is never truly stagnant. It seems we humans and the communities in which we participate are either growing healthier (dropping defensiveness, inauthenticity, and anxiety) or disintegrating (galvanizing defensiveness, inauthenticity, and anxiety). The team personality itself must be on a growth path or the work suffers, and team members leave for greener pastures. Team success and turnover rates are profoundly impacted by whether or not there is healthy purpose and forward movement that the individual members can tie their psychic ropes to. (Pink, 2011) The powerful and sustainable task groups are those where the members can identify, are attracted to, and stay connected by the group’s collective “I,” the real purpose of the team’s existence, under all the roles and reaction patterns.

The Effective Team Mindset – The Invitation to Enjoy the Challenge

The developmental combustion engine for healthy team forward movement is a work zone where people feel a freedom to make the vital (yes, vital) mistakes from which they can learn. Powerful teams encourage members to practice what achievement specialists, Rosamund and Benjamin Zander (The Art of Possibility, 2000), call the “How fascinating!” response in the face of an error. Going into, and not running from, the tension of a developmental crisis is how we grow as human beings. It is how toddlers learn to negotiate the front porch stairs, it is how great athletes get to the point where they win medals, and it is how teams kindle that synergistic expansion of talent and rapid momentum unique to group process.

Stanford researcher, Carol Dweck (Mindset: the New Psychology of Success, 2006), did an extensive study of the type of mindset that yields high levels of sustained success throughout a person’s lifetime. Her conclusion? Expecting and enjoying challenge is what success is made of, even for extremely talented people. When was the last time you struggled with an unfamiliar work task and chuckled out a resilient “Great! I love a challenge! Otherwise I’d be bored!” hmm? That is exactly the kind of internal mental environment the high achieving and happy individuals (children, college students, adult professionals and couples) in Dweck’s (2006) study made for themselves. They were individuals who were taught to see the developmental challenges of life as just that, challenges; not as dangerous tests of self-worth that might leave a permanent “F” on their life record. Dweck’s award-winning discovery was that this growth mindset is teachable; we do not have to be born into resilient mindset families to use this developmental key. Any of us can learn to work from this place, and model this for our employees and co-workers. Inviting your team to love developmental challenge and value the necessary stumbles along the way to greatness is an essential part of effective team life.

The New Team-Building – the Ongoing, Sincere Invitation to Development:

If you are leading any kind of task-oriented group and you are interested in that team producing results with real value, making up your mind to do what is necessary to create a group culture of growth is essential. Though the average organization is slashing its “team-building” budgets these days (so much so that even the name of that service genre has been vanishing from today’s corporate speak), your team is has not been brought together to be average. If you listen to the team leaders who are getting truly valuable results in this difficult economy –leaders at some of the most successful corporations, like Google, where increases market share are most often accompanied by increases in employee satisfaction; and leaders at the great institutions of higher learning, like Harvard Graduate School of Business, from which some of the most significant organizations in the nation hire (Pink, 2011) — what you will hear are ongoing authentic invitations to development extended to members of their teams. The chance to align work with the higher calls of the human spirit translates to team productivity and sustained team member investment; successful team leaders get, and never forget, that aspect of reality.

Regularly scheduled team events that stimulate important structural, style, and mindset shifts in the work group are great launch points for igniting or reigniting this new kind of teamwork journey. This new breed of team-building connects team members to the deep “what’s,” “how’s” and “why’s” of team success.

One powerful way to send one of these authentic invitations to development to your group is to book Ronna’s community-building workshops for your teams, work groups, church fellowships, or other organizations!