One of my favorite experiences last year was attending Silicon Slopes Gala in Salt Lake City with my daughter. Reed Hastings was there and shared his thoughts about work teams. While so many of us refer to our work teams as family. He suggests that’s a bad approach. It’s much better to think about work teams more like a professional sports team. Your roster will be constantly changing to make sure you have the best players in each of the needed positions. And, if you happen to be lucky enough to be playing for an Olympic or professional team, you realize it’s a tremendous honor. But you also realize that as the game or team evolve, you may lose your starting position to someone better suited to play in a particular game or season. You may even lose your position on the team. But the psychology of losing your position on a winning team is wildly different than losing your position in your family. OUCH! Being fired from a family (or firing) is a terrible prospect. Reshuffling the roster in our company shouldn’t bring the drama and trauma of a bad divorce.
Over the course of my career, I’ve shifted from 90% task and results oriented to put much more focus on relationships. Much of that is natural since I was raised in a very task focused family. My wife is 90% relationship oriented, so she’s helped me become a more balanced person, friend and leader. Plus, I’ve learned that I get 100x more personal satisfaction from helping others learn and grow than by driving tasks. Interestingly, focusing more on people motivates and strengthens their ability to get stuff done. So, results and output are much better as the relationship is strengthened with trust and personal engagement.
I have noticed a much stronger emotional attachment to my team members through this process. And it begins to feel a lot like a family. It almost feels like love. Since I’ve never played Olympic or professional level sports, I haven’t had the opportunity to develop and enjoy the similarly strong emotional bonds from being on a team. But Mr. Hasting’s words helped me realize it must be the same. Shifting the metaphor from family to team doesn’t mean the emotional bonds or strength of relationship decrease. Trust, engagement, respect, support, mentoring, coaching… all these things are shared between winning teams and families. However, the shift helps everyone realize that winning as a team will require our team to evolve based on changes in the game, sport, and other external factors. You’re not a loser when you lose your position on a top-level team.
By the way. If you want to keep a position on a winning team, you better avoid thinking your position is protected by imaginary corporate loyalty or yesterdays performance. YOU need to learn, grow, improve and evolve with the needs of the team. Or, you truly don’t deserve that position. You better UP YOUR GAME!
I’ve been thinking about another post that’s mostly focused on love (not business). But just a few random things to think about.
The strong emotional bonds (love?) you develop with your team are obviously different than the infatuation and passion of a romantic relationship. But many of the feelings are similar. And, love is a pretty complicated concept. My love for my wife is different than my love for my kids, parents, friends, best friends, siblings, team members, etc. But, layered across those relationships are some similar feelings and mutual commitment.
I don’t claim to be a love or relationship genius. But what I’ve come to realize is that some of the strongest relationships in my life are developed through shared experiences. The more intense the experience, the stronger the bonding. Shared positive experiences are obviously more fun, but shared negative experience can also create a very strong emotional bond. My sister and I have an incredible relationship built around training and running marathons. We ran the Boston Marathon together in 2013 when the bombings occurred. While we were both safely across the finish line 20 minutes before the violence. The experience and the aftermath remain a strong cord that will always bind our relationship together. Of course, we’ve had many positive training and marathon days also. I’m just thankful that I have such a strong relationship with my little sister. Through all of life’s changes, we remain close.
Back in the office, the shared positive (and negative) experiences can be very intense. We’re together 40-60 hours per week. Together we tackle high pressure projects, expectations, presentations, etc. We sometimes lose. And we often win together. We sacrifice and help each other. And through all those shared experiences our relationships are strengthened. It’s understandable that these work relationships may be some of the strongest in our lives. The sheer magnitude of shared intense experience at work is hard to equal in the few remaining hours in our day that’s left for other relationships. By the way, this really does highlight the need to invest heavily in opportunities to create experiences with our spouses and families. Make time and spend on experiences not things.
One more thing before I wrap.
When we chose to leave or are asked to leave a team, we don’t need to leave the individual work relationships we cherish. Yes, it’s more difficult to stay connected. But those amazing work relationships belong to the two of you, not the team you leave behind. Unlike a bad divorce when friendships are dissolved (even surrounding ones), as we leave one team/company and join another, our network of friends, support, mentors and coaches should also expand. That ever-expanding network is a tremendous blessing.
Some of my best support and advice comes from former managers, peers and employees. Some of these are the people who have helped me find new jobs. Invest. Create this awesome new company. They make introductions and open doors I could never open without their help. I cherish those relationships; old and new.
Avoid propagating ‘the work team is a family’ metaphor to avoid living through bad divorces at work. It’s all about people. Relationships really do matter.