Sunday, January 30, 2005

What It Means to be Part of a Team

We've all heard cliche statements like "no man is an island" or "man is a social being", whether it's from our teachers, movies, or books. They then associate the individual with the community and how each person has his or her own responsibilities and duties. For me, I think community is too heavy a word. True, we do belong to communities, but I feel that "communities" don't always act like communities. Rather, I'd like to go back to something more basic, namely the concept of a team.

Why a team? Well, it has a flexible definition. People usually associate teams with sports but it goes beyond that. Your class is a team. Your organization is a team. You and your coworkers are a team. Heck, your family is a team. For me, as long as you have someone else along the ride, whether it's your sibling, a best friend, or a business partner, that can potentially be a team. As long as you're not alone, a team is in existence.

There are several reasons why teams exists. Sometimes, it's just a means to socialize with each other. If you have a group of friends or a clique, that's basically what happens. Others, on the other hand, band together for a different purpose, such as a common goal. Business organizations and sports teams pretty much fall under that category. The people involved in those teams aren't necessarily friends to begin with, but they are all interested in achieving a certain dream or goal, and so they unite and pool their resources and talents in order to actualize that dream or goal. Sometimes, the dream or goal is so big that it goes beyond the people involved in the project. Many outsiders might be interested in joining that group because they believe in the concept or principle. For me, this is when a community develops. People are usually attracted to the ideology behind the community rather than the just the people behind the project. That idea that binds them need not be something so profound, but it is an idea that many people share and believe in. A country, for example, is a community united by something huge (whether it's the physical territory of the nation, what the nation stands for, or the cultural aspect of that nation, is up to debate, but no one can argue that there is something that unites people from a certain nation and makes them identify themselves with that community). Or a fan club to, say, Harry Potter, is a community as well. The concept of Harry Potter might not be as essential as the concept of a nation but it's a community nonetheless.

So what value is there in a team compared to an individual? I mean isn't it one of our values that each individual human being is important and unique? Well, I obviously can't deny that. I mean teams are made up of individuals. If individuals didn't exist in the first place, there wouldn't be a team to speak of. But it's also been my experience that a team can achieve more than an individual can. For example, take the simple reality of building a structure. If I were to build a house by myself, it would probably take me months, if not years, to actually build one. But when I'm part of a team, the house can be built faster as well as better. Because it is the fact that we are individuals that limits us: as individuals, we have a limited set of expertise and manpower. When you're part of a team, you can multiply the manpower and get a wider (and better) set of skills. I'd also like to point out that individuals are products of teams: our families raised us and that surely has had an effect on who we are. The institutions which we patronize also have an effect on us. Schools and universities are comprised of teams as well and they surely have given us education (even if its unwanted education). My religion has also shaped my beliefs and I belong to that team as well. The same goes for my occupation and any organizations I joined. Yet despite those facts, there’s usually something that stops us from truly being part of a team.

For one thing, there's pride. Most of us has this "superman" complex. We think that we can do everything, or at least achieve our dreams through our methods alone. It might be limited to a field of expertise, such as a writer thinking that he can write the great novel through his or her own efforts alone. Or an aspiring entrepreneur who thinks that an entire organization can be built from his ingenuity alone. And in a certain way, that's understandable. Everyone wants to take credit, after all. But the flaw in this thinking is that something big can be achieved from someone so small. Let's face it, as individuals, we have potential, but that potential has a limit as well. If we were part of a team, our potential can be complemented by other people's potential as well, or at the very least, things would be quicker and easier. And as mentioned earlier, we're actually part of an existing team, whether we're conscious of it or not. For example, as I'm writing this essay, I might think that this is the product of my genius alone. It's not. I'm actually part of a team. I can cite several people who inspired me to write this. There's also the fact that I'm typing this on a computer and someone had to build the computer in the first place. If I'm going to publish this, there are several teams involved in the process, whether it's the publishers, the printing press, and staff if this was going to be published in print, or my ISP provider and web host if this was going to be published on the Internet. And since I'm a Christian, I believe that God had a role in this as well. As much as I want to take full credit, I really can't. Because without the aid of those other people, this essay wouldn't be possible. So the reality of the fact is that as much as we want to take 100% credit for what we've accomplished in our lives, we can only probably take 10%. Because we really have to take into account the aid that other people have provided us and the services we are utilizing in order to accomplish what we are undertaking. And it's simply impossible to do it alone.

Another reason might be because we're resistant to give up control. I mean if you're a parent, I'm sure you want to monitor your child 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We don't want strangers talking to our kids, especially when we think about the possible harm (both emotionally and physically) they can possibly inflict. The same goes with our goals and dreams. They're our babies, pet projects that we don't want to entrust to others because of the possible changes they can inflict. And in a certain way, that's true. Someone else's vision of things will always be different from ours, even if it's just a minor deviation. But just like the actual child who gets influenced by his or her environment, there will be good changes and bad changes. My main point is that if your team is comprised of good people, then hopefully good changes will come out on top. Of course if your team is comprised of bad people, there's a good chance that your dream or goal will transform into something horrible. For me, purity of vision is next to impossible. Because just like a parent's inability to monitor their child during their entire life, the same goes for our dreams and goals. They will be affected by the changes around us, and sometimes, letting go is for the best. A parent has to let his or her child grow up on his or her own. Our goals and visions similarly have to grow up. A long time ago, I wanted to be a policeman so that I could nab all the bad guys and gain acclaim from my peers. If my dream didn't grow, I'd probably still be hoping for the same thing. But since I've matured and grown up, I now know that the world isn't merely black and white, and instead of punishing others, perhaps the best thing one can expect from other people is for them to change for the better. I can't always bottle up my ideas. And if I'm going to fulfill that idea, it's also best to recruit the aid of other people. And honestly, when a team strives for that common goal, there are more options available.

Then there's fear. It's a natural tendency for some people, especially the insecure ones, to think that if they become a part of a team, they lose their identity. I mean if I constantly concede my wishes for the sake of other people, how can I claim to possess free will when I always allow other people to make the decisions for me? I think the keyword in team is common goal. A true team has members that strive for that common goal. Sometimes, the members must go out of their comfort zone and make sacrifices. That doesn't mean you lose your identity. I always believed that everything has a price and sacrifice is just one of the prices you pay in order to achieve your goal. Of course if it's a goal you don't want, you don't have to make that sacrifice. But if it is, then you can't accomplish it until you pay that price. It's not a loss of identity more than a willingness to pay the price. It's true though that sometimes, your own desires are repressed for the good of the team. If that's the case, the question you should ask yourself is if the team is worth it. If it is, swallow your pride and stop your whining. If it isn't, then perhaps it's time you find yourself a new team. And make no mistake, we are all part of a team. The only question is which team we'll join, and whether we'll remain there or not. The pit trap many people fall is that in their decision to "not join a team", they join the community of people who are unwilling to join any group or organization.

Of course we've all had our share of bad experiences when it comes to groups or organizations. Some didn't meet our expectations. Others made us feel that we were merely used. Not all teams exist for the benefit of each of its members. And there's also a misconception that in a team, the leader is always on top. A good team doesn't have leaders on top: they have their goal on top. Leaders lead the team but they are not 100% responsible for the success or failure of the team. The leader and the members of the team are 100% responsible for their success and failure.

I've joined many organizations in my life and one of the surprising mentalities many people have is that the question they ask from the organization is what can the organization do for them. Of course I'm not saying that potential recruits should always think of what they can do for the organization. It's actually a relationship of mutual benefit: what can I contribute to the organization, and how can I benefit from it? One of my previous organizations had a workshop. The workshop exists so that the members would get better, and they in turn would be in a better position to help the organization. Of course what happened during the workshop was that only a few members showed up. The following year, previous members wouldn't reapply because they'd claim they never got anything from the organization. Well, all I can say is obviously, they didn't get anything because they didn't volunteer. I mean when you apply for a job, you don't ask your employer what the company can do for you. There's a mutual agreement, that you do this and that work, and the company compensates you this and that way. If one of you fails in that commitment, the other party can also back out of the agreement. The same goes with joining organizations: don't expect your other team members or leaders to give you what you need to grow and achieve your goals. They're only there to present you with opportunities. If you don't take advantage of that opportunity, don't expect to get anything out of the deal. And similarly, it's also your responsibility to make that organization grow. It's easy to lay the blame on the leaders, saying that they're doing a bad job and the like. Well, if you really feel that way, then volunteer to be a leader or start something. Remember that when the organization grows, you grow too. The more opportunities your team has, the more opportunities you have. The individual and the group build on each other. When one falters, it's the responsibility of the other to help the other party, or else both of you will eventually collapse.

I wrote this essay not to belittle the efforts of individuals. As I mentioned earlier, teams are only possible because of the individuals themselves. Without unique and talented people, the team has no value. But the beauty of being part of a team, and don't make any mistake, you are part of a team whether you realize it or not, is that you are capable of significantly much more. But that's only possible if you actually take the time and the effort to participate in the team and help it achieve its goal. The team is not there merely to help you, but you're there to help the team, and the team in turn gives aid and provides you opportunities for growth.