If There's No "I" In Team...How Will Anything Ever Get Done?

Tue, Sep 28, 2010 @ 3:57 PM by Ian Curtin

With my best intentions in place, my hope for co-creating with others has easily slide through my fingers. In those times, my allies look like enemies and I feel the threads of burnout pulling at me. And my mind chatter is telling me I am going to have to do this myself - or it will never get done.

I think all of us have entered into collaborations in hope that our passion for life could be expressed in community - that we could contribute in a creative and supportive environment. And many times we get disappointed - each experience reinforcing "our story" that people can't seem to get along and...

It will only get done if "I" do it myself.

At the root of these failures is the temptation to be right about our world view. We let it trump the potential for working through differences with others so we can find new ground upon which to strengthen our collaborations.

So where do things start to go sideways?

By now I know the drill. I am drawn to others when I sense the potential of shared values, beliefs and the possible fulfillment of my hopes and dreams in community with others. We enter into collaboration with a set of expectations and intentions. Likely, we have not fully shared our assumptions and expectations, sometimes not at all. We may not even be conscious of our own motivations. However, even without full information about ourselves and others, we plunge in. This is often the foundation we have created to build our collaboration that we hope will achieve an end we are passionate about.

All good...so far.

The initial period can be full of excitement and wonder as we begin to learn about our new partner and expand on our original hopes and dreams. This is easy to do since we have little or no experience with them. They are essentially a blank canvass. So we paint on this new relationship canvass with "romantic" notions about who they are, what their intentions appear to be, my chance to bring my "royal jelly" to the table and what we can do together.

However, inevitably something shows up that contains a "pinch" for us.

Some discomfort during an interaction. The first few times we might minimize this by telling ourselves one of us is just having a bad day. Or we can ignore or deny it. There are a myriad of responses that drive us to smooth over these bumps in the road so we can return to our "romantic" version of our new collaboration.

The problem is that signs of significant difference just keep getting larger and eventually my usual techniques for avoiding going deeper into how the actual relationship is unfolding aren't working. I am somewhat conscious of the problem because it keeps popping into my head randomly.

And there are predictable stages to my mounting concern.

  1. It sneaks into my conversations with people
  2. I find myself starting to gossip about the other person or organization
  3. I choose my words carefully when talking to them, or I just avoid talking to them altogether
  4. And I start to imagine the end of this relationship and start considering plan B

My back door out of the relationship is starting to open. I may not even take a moment to grieve the potential loss of this collaboration as I may be way to busy fixing the mess left behind and/or creating more work for myself so the loss isn't seen or experienced by myself or others. That is how I burn out.

Over the years, I have tired of this cycle. I also have more relationship tools to move into my curiosity and compassion for others. My staying power or resilience is way up and I have more room for difference. I find myself increasingly making plans to talk about what is up for me and having a deep intention to find out how the other person is thinking and feeling. Something has moved inside me that I no longer have to be right.  The temptation is there for sure, but I feel a deeper commitment to wanting the relationship first.

You've probably had the experience of hanging in with a friend or collaboration partner and finding out a lot of things you didn’t know. This fuller understanding often opens new potential on which your friendship or collaboration can move forward. You've taken all the little steps inside you to side step any defences you use to protect your values and beliefs.

My steps include:

  1. Laughing at my mind when it tells me I am absolutely right about this or that.
  2. Stay longer in the anxiety I feel when significant difference is present.
  3. And most importantly, I feel my commitment to working with others to change how we live on this planet.

None of us can change the world alone. My heart knows this better than my head.

So, I pick up the phone, or find some way to connect with the differences I am experiencing in my colleagues, friends or family. I don't have to do it "right", I just have to be honest about my thoughts and feelings and keep my heartfelt intentions front and centre as I offer what I think to be true for me in the moment, knowing that in the next moment, that is likely to change.

Collaboration is not a linear process. The twists and turns provide rich learning. We can all use practice in expanding our consciousness by including more perspectives in our work and play. We need more leaders who compassionately seek to work through collaborations and ensure no one is marginalized.

"If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner."
Nelson Mandela

Hi Erin, Thanks for sharing

Hi Erin, Thanks for sharing your experience and the link to Mr. Hendris's website. I agree that the stages of relationship can be adapted and applied in a work context. In my facilitation work, I have been doing just that for over 15 years and it continues to resonate with people. Working through power struggles at work can be a huge challenge and often more complex than personal relationship power struggles. At work there are usually more people involved, each with their own set of defences. So when people begin to see their romance with a new job, a new employee, a new team or a new project, starting to fall away, the complexity of the matrix of defences in play can be mind boggling. 

And yet getting together to talk things through honestly and in a self responsible manner remains one of the best ways to move through to more satisfying work relationships. And working through these stages of relationship is more likely to create a working environment conducive to co-creating.

I had a quick perusal through the website you suggested. The relationship stages Mr. Hendrix identifies are very similar to the ones first identified by Susan Campbell in her book A Couple's Journey (1980). Her stages include romance, power struggle, stability, commitment and co-creative. Her work was later expanded upon by Jock McKeen & Bennet Wong in their book The Relationship Garden (1996). I highly recommend their book. It can be found at http://www.haven.ca/resources/publications.html.

This article struck me right

This article struck me right at the core of my being. I find myself go through a similar cycle with new work/service ventures and partnerships: excitement of possibilities, which morphs into noticing little annoyances, followed by a feeling of doom LOL, and then sometimes a feeling of stagnation or indifference.

I found your analogy to romantic relationships illuminating. It reminds me of the work by Harville Hendrix who has written books such as "Getting the Love You Want" http://www.harvillehendrix.com/ . He specialises in couples therapy and has a refreshing (and I feel valid) theory of romantic attraction. It is very similar to the stages you outlined in the article. His 'remedy' for these 'inevitable' stages is also illuminating, and with a bit of adaptation, could be applied in a work context.


PS. I have put the last sentence up on my wall "We need more leaders who compassionately seek to work through collaborations and ensure no one is marginalized".

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