There are many wonderful things about working for and by oneself. It can be lovely to work at your own pace and listen to your own rhythms. Of course, you have to learn to do everything by yourself, and I must admit that after many years of having great assistants, there are several office tasks I’ve had to relearn over the past year or so. (I mean I haven’t really been in charge of my own calendar since I started working in student conduct and that was a long time ago.)
Now to be honest, I’m not truly alone. Peter, my husband, supports me in ways too many to mention here including managing the books. And when I start complaining at the computer and throwing my hands up in the air, he calmly takes the computer away and sorts things out. (Today’s version turned out to be a problem with a University’s new system not me, though I always assume the problem is operator error.)
There are wonderful aspects to my current work, but I have to admit since I have left campus, I’ve missed being part of a larger team. I’ve missed leading teams. I miss the give and take, the laughter, and even the frustrations of the process of a group of people bringing their varied personalities and talents together to accomplish something bigger than each of us.
In graduate school, in a leadership course, our professor had us do a role play. I can’t remember now which one it was. We may have been stuck in the Himalayas or lost in a desert or perhaps at sea in a small boat. But either way, that version and the ones I’ve used in class since then had the same result over and over. A group of people pooling their knowledge solves the problem better than a single person. (Unless, of course, you happen upon someone with specialized knowledge – the extreme rock climber was clearly better off on his own in the mountains than hindered by the rest of us.)
I’ve been lucky in my career to be part of many good teams and a few that were truly extraordinary. They helped me achieve new heights and together we did amazing work. And I would say that all of the good teams had some of the three elements mentioned in the TED article below – intellectual diversity, psychological safety, and a purpose worth fighting for. One of the best parts of being part of higher education was that I always felt I had a purpose worth working for and the level of intellectual talent and diversity was amazing. I was lucky in that, more often than not, I also experienced the necessary psychological safety. All three were certainly present in those extraordinary groups – people I trusted, people I could laugh with, and yes, disagree with.
Not too surprisingly some of the best times in those extraordinary groups were the times we faced the most difficult problems. As you work to address some of the most challenging combinations of circumstances most of us have ever faced, I hope you are working with great teams. Leading a team is always challenging and never more so than today as teams are working from many different locations. But the opportunity to be part of or to lead a great team is also a gift. No matter your role in the team, what can you do to be part of building a team that has the three things great teams have in common to create that gift for yourself or others?