Your "Me" Reflects on the "We" of Your Team

Most companies and leaders emphasize team spirit and collaboration. Few get the true benefits of starting with the individual, one person at a time. It’s like the flight attendant announces “put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting a child or someone else.” You can’t create an effective team without first understanding each person that makes up the team.

The “Me” is reflected in the “We.” It takes each person to be engaged, energized and empowered in order to have a team that works collaboratively toward common goals.

Yes, it takes time to do this and it’s certainly less painful than dealing with dysfunctional teams later. You choose.

Further, most companies establish a company mission statement and have core values.  They are often created collectively by gathering in put from individuals and teams.  That’s great. However, do they take the time to see how the mission and values resonate with each individual? Can they personally relate and authentically make it their own? If you separate a person into “work” and “life” then you are not getting the best of the individual. In order to create a culture where people realize their full potential it’s critical to make space for individuals to get clear about their personal values and purpose, before relating them to the company.

To illustrate with myself, I work at a company with a very important mission in the health care space. I relate to it but that’s not why I am excited to go into work. I’m excited to go do what I do there because I get to further my new career in people development. When I connect with work that way, I am fulfilling my personal need for purpose, autonomy and mastery (thank you Daniel Pink for “Drive”).

Wouldn’t it benefit leaders to have each person arrive at this level of connection with their work, beyond a paycheck? Here is one approach to creating a Me/We culture:

1. Explore “Me”:

Make time, ideally in a day-long team workshop, to allow individuals to get clear about their personal values, what’s most important to them, what factors are deal breakers and their personal why—purpose. Most people need to be prompted to discover their values and purpose. Recalling defining life stories or peak events is a good way to prompt people to learn from their experiences.

2. Clarify “We”:

Most teams have a general sense of how they add value and contribute to the overall company mission. Few teams take the time to articulate this clearly and then embed this team value proposition into how they do everything—prioritizing work, setting the tone on desired behaviors, aligning goals and performance metrics etc.

3. Connect the “Me” and “We”:

Now comes the moment of truth. Having explored personal values and purpose and clarified the team’s reason for being, now each individual gets to connect the two parts and reflect on how closely they are aligned. For instance, if you value autonomy (defined by Dan Pink as “the desire to direct our own lives”) and are constantly told what to do and how to do it by your manager—there is a clear disconnect.

These steps are simple enough but not necessarily easy. Eventually, it’s up to each individual to get honest with themselves to assess if there is a disconnect between the “Me” and the “We.” It takes courage on the part of a leader to open up a safe space for her people to explore their personal why and values and be ok with the outcome. It is far more efficient to have someone wake up to the fact that they are a “misfit” through self-awareness, than for management or HR to have to raise a lack of fit with a person.

The benefits far out-weight the potential downside of this approach: higher employee engagement, greater productivity, and authentic collaboration that allows people to freely co-create solutions.

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