Sandpaper is not Teamwork

I’ve been thinking about what it means to work effectively in a team and in the process I came up with a few interesting metaphors.

Working is about making progress — which isn’t always straightforward, with detours and dead ends but It’s still progress even if you head in the wrong direction but end up with an insight that lets you move in a new direction. Ultimately though a clear vision of what the outcome should be is paramount.

I’ve had both good, productive and bad, unproductive experiences. I remember projects where we would work late into the night on nebulous briefs — only to have everything tossed away the next morning. It lacked a greater vision and the individual pieces did not come together. It was an exhausting grind. And for me doing meaningless or seemingly meaningless work has always been the most challenging and unsatisfying. I need to know why I’m doing something. I also remember projects where daily check-ins ensured that everyone knew what they needed to do, who to talk to and what to prioritize. It was a much smoother experience, a well oiled machine with many parts yet it worked with a satisfying precision.

Better too much than too little

The really interesting part in a team, where you and I are part of a larger whole, is the space between the individual parts and the implications of the interaction of these parts. You might call it culture, and if so it’s like the culture in a petri dish, it’s the ecosystem that keeps everyone happy and alive. It’s mutually shared, its space, its energy, it gives us everything we need to sustain ourselves but also our group. It also binds us to each other — it’s the glue that holds the individuals together.

The glue made me think of sandpaper, which as it grinds through material wastes itself in the process. Working together should not be a sandpaper experience. It should rather be like a sharp toolset, that cuts through issues precisely and efficiently. It does it in a way that each individual piece could not on its own, but can as a whole. Held together by a strong bond: the belief in the same ideals, in each other, in the outcomes, the improvement globally and personally.

This culture glue that fills the gaps is as important as the individual parts it connects. It has to be evenly distributed to create a quality bond, thats built on trust and withstands thrust. You want to to be able to sharpen them, create an environment where they can be sharp, where they can bond, where they know what they need to do, how to do it, find out how to do it, and where they are excited about doing it, about moving forward and not an environment that grinds them to pieces.

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