A while ago, I had the opportunity to accept — or decline — two new business relationships (one as a board member and one in a business venture). As I listened to my internal dialogue about the two propositions, I noticed I kept coming back to my fundamental belief: teamwork is an individual (not a group) skill and responsibility.
In the end, only I am responsible for the quality of all my work relationships. So, when I enjoy them, I’m enjoying my choices.
When I don’t like my work relationships, only I can do something to improve them.
What does this have to do with my decision-making process (or yours, when you’re asked to join a team)? Well, if teamwork is an individual skill, then when we elect to join with others:
- we retain our personal power
- we lend our consent to a group direction and purpose, and
- we incur a responsibility (aka, ability to respond) to speak up if/when we disagree with the group’s direction or purpose
Said another way, take individual responsibility for every relationship and act as if you are always participating in a consensus process, even if the relationship is based on authority, majority, or some other form of governance. Or, decline the relationship.
Contrary to the popular definition, real “team players” are never willing to “go along” with something about which they have strong negative feelings.
They remain conscience that all authority relationships are just agreements — consents — between them and others. They retain and exercise their personal power at all times.
When real “team players” disagree, they push back on others (whether they’re peers, partners, managers, bosses, or elected representatives), knowing that the group’s final agreement will either represent their personal consent to a direction and/or purpose or be the signal for them to withdraw their personal power from the relationship to move in another direction.
In my case, I eventually saw that I lacked sufficient passion for the work to participate patiently in one group’s process. Since my predisposition was to change the group’s direction, without serious passion to fuel my efforts, I’m better off not becoming a member. And the group will be better off, too.
“Going along” without passion or commitment creates two phenomena:
- Entire groups going where no member wants to go (i.e., group think, aka risky shift)
- People hanging out together with low commitment, low energy, low performance, resentment and low esteem.
When I exercise true responsibility, I empower, I approve of, and I co-operate with a wide variety of group decisions towards achieving an agreed direction and purpose. When I do this, it’s unnecessary to voice my opinion on every single detail — in other words, I don’t “sweat the small stuff.”
Exercising my responsibility means I focus on purpose, direction and values — and let everything else go.
So, these days it works best for me to treat every group action, decision and process as one that I “consent to” for as long as I choose to stay in the relationship.
5-Minute Practice Tip
Consider how each group decision or action literally can’t happen without your consent (even if by silent tolerance or permission). As you do this, make note of how you feel about your membership and your urges to speak your truth.
Leave a comment and tell me what you think.
Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide. Build a responsible team (or family) and master your leadership skills with The Leadership Gift Program for Leaders.