Saving the World, One Team at a Time

This story is about why.

This is an important word. ‘Why?’ is a big question with many possible answers. My two and a half year old daughter asks me why. A lot. Her whys are her working out the practicalities of her little world and what makes it tick. They aren’t yet the larger existential whys that start to really kick in as a hormonal teenager. Fun times ahead for her. And me, for that matter.

But most of us probably don’t have the BIG answer to the BIG why. And what is that BIG why? Why, it’s ‘why are we here?’, of course.

Today, I found my why.

I say I found it. That sounds like I didn’t have it in the first place, and I came across it for the first time. That’s not quite right. I think it was always with me, as it is for all of us, it just hadn’t revealed itself or been fully revealed to me or by me.

I have spent a lot of time in my working life addressing other people’s why. Why should we do this, why should we behave like that, why are we doing what we do. I helped companies build their teams and helped run a pretty successful and focused training company that was very hot on working out its own why — why do we exist and do what we do. But I’d never worked out my own why.

Why not? For a long time, I didn’t need to. I have had what I would consider to be a very fortunate life. Great family orientated upbringing living all over the world, privileged education, lots of friends, interesting jobs, wife, kids, house... all that’s missing in that story is the dog. Like everyone, I have had setbacks, but generally I consider myself to have been lucky and successful. I was fully occupied with that life, and didn’t have the time or inclination to ask ‘why?’

But something was missing.

I couldn’t put my finger on it. I had worked hard to build this successful life, find a wife, get a great job, have children, have the material things I always wanted. These are the kind of things I aspired to, and was happy that I had achieved. Why was something missing? What was it? I didn’t know, and frankly didn’t really care or have time to do anything about it. It nagged and niggled occasionally at the back of my head, like trying to remember something you were about to say in a conversation whilst you waited your turn to speak, and then forgot when your turn came around. ‘Oh, never mind, it’ll come to me’. But it never did, and I didn’t think it really mattered. And it would go away again.

But it did matter. And it does matter. And now I have it, things are clicking into place. The nagging feeling isn’t there. Instead, there is the beginning of real focus and a sense of ‘Aha! So THAT is what it’s all about’.

So what is my why? I’m coming to that. But I need to explain some context.

I have spent time learning about and exploring how important it is for teams and companies to have a clear and articulate purpose. Not superficial purpose like ‘make money’ but a true purpose. I heard Margaret Heffernan interviewed recently and think she sums this up well:

“What on earth makes you think, that everybody is going to really give it their all to hit a revenue target? You know you have to talk to something much deeper inside people than that. You have to talk to people about something that makes a difference to them every day if you want them to bring their best and do their best and feel that you’ve given them the opportunity to do the best work they’ve ever done”.

This got me thinking about and researching purpose. Everything I found pointed towards the fact that true, deep purposeful satisfaction comes when you know you are making a positive impact on other people’s lives.

Around this time, when I was working all of this out, I started up The Team Space. I worked hard to craft an effective, elevator-pitch style sentence for what I do, and I was pleased when I came up with ‘helping people get teamwork right’. It was important to me not only that I succinctly tell people what I do, but also that it is clear that I help people, because that is at the heart of meaningful purpose.

So I was happy that I had started to find a solid purpose to my work, and begin to really harness what I am passionate about and good at. But work purpose isn’t quite the full answer to the BIG why? It’s a hugely significant part, but not the be all and end all. Jobs can come and go. Other things are more important.

Whilst I was crafting my elevator pitch, I toyed with another alternative. I dismissed it as being too cheesy and big headed. And that phrase was ‘saving the world, one team at a time’. Today, this made perfect sense, and has become my ‘why’.

So what happened today?

Sometimes in life you find yourself having a conversation with someone and you suddenly get this almost tingling realisation that the discussion you are having is going to be really, really important, if not life changing. You prick up your ears, and concentrate. You hang on every word, both yours, and the person you are talking with. It becomes a conversation that you wish you had recorded, in case you missed a particularly good bit of advice. But you’ll never forget the conversation.

Some of this feeling comes from eagerly collecting the pearls of wisdom that drop from the lips of the person you are listening to, and sometimes the point is because you get to say out loud stuff that previously was just inside you. Hearing your own voice articulate ideas that have previously been jumbled thoughts in your own mind has tremendous power.

Today I had a conversation with someone where both happened. And in that process, it became clear to me that my why is ‘saving the world, one team at a time’.

Now, I probably won’t choose to change my tagline from ‘helping people get teamwork right’ because that’s nice and safe and clear and not arrogant or cheesy. But if someone is interested, I’d be happy to explain the back story, the real why. It’s not private, it just requires some explanation.

So I am 44. I have two children. I see them, and I see the world that I have been responsible for bringing them into. And I take that responsibility seriously. In their lifetime, I believe the world is going to go one of two ways. Up, or down. Heads or tails. And also like a coin, my why has two sides.

The first side is why I do what I do with my work. I consider myself very lucky not to have what I would consider a job. Instead, I say that I have a mission, or even a calling, which is to help people get teamwork right. That means I have the chance to make a positive impact on the people I touch through my writing and speaking on teamwork. This is my passion, my skill, and my interest. And it gives me the chance to do good. Teamwork can be done well, or badly. I want to help people do it well. So this is a great part of my ‘why’.

If you flip the coin, the other, deeper part, is the opportunity I have to influence where the world is heading, for the sake of my children. I’m old enough and I hope wise enough to handle what the world will throw at me. But my children do not have that ability yet. I look at their young, innocent eyes as they look to me for protection or guidance and I feel very deeply the biological urge to protect them. And I know that the big bad world is out there with the potential to be a very harmful place for them.

I now know that I have a chance to do something about that. I truly and deeply believe that if I can help people get teamwork right, then I am going to swing the barometer in the right direction.

Mankind is going to face its biggest challenges that will threaten our very survival in the next 100 years. I am sure of this. And I am equally sure that the answer is partly going to be around how all of humankind works together as a team. It won’t just be the scientists, the innovators, the leaders who will save us — it will be up to everyone to pull together in committed mass movements, where self interest is sacrificed for the good of our survival, and people commit to working in teams and the one great big team of mankind.

So what’s my why? Well, it’s simple. To save the world, one team at a time. To equip people with the necessary awareness, values, skills, tools and a behavioural blueprint to get teamwork right. I can’t save the world on my own, but as Chairman Mao said, every journey starts with a single step. I’ll start with my own team — my family — and then work with any team that wants me. And if by the time my number is up I have not only brought my own children up to be good people, but I have managed to help others learn how to get teamwork right, then I think I will have done what is in my power — to save the world, one team at a time.

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