This past week, our political differences magically dissolved for a time as we acknowledged the demise of International Terrorist, Osama Bin Laden. This long awaited accomplishment has caused us to reflect upon the tragic events of 9/11, and our shared sense of everlasting sadness. A deep sadness forever etched in our collective psyche.
On the domestic front, communities have come together around the devastation caused by an onslaught of recent natural disasters in our country. Floods and tornados have a way of bringing out the best in neighbors, as we seek ways to help each other deal with the perils of nature.
There is nothing like a dreadful enemy or a natural disaster to bring out the teamwork in all of us. We understand our interdependencies and we do not question the need to pull together. We get it, and we do what needs to be done, together.
There is even some talk that we citizens might seize this sense of commonality and leverage it to pull together focusing on the extreme challenges we have before us. By discovering and focusing on points of agreement and shared understandings, might we actually be able to use our abundant strengths and creativity to solve our collective problems and challenges?
Ironically, the need to pull together is not so obvious in more normalized situations. We tend to focus more locally, on personal interests. Our natural interdependencies, while still there, may not be apparent. It's much easier to focus on our differences, what divides us, causing us to pull apart.
My first real job was in a large insurance company in Omaha, Nebraska. I remember receiving my first promotion, and after an "official" orientation to the department, I received my "unofficial" orientation. I was instructed by "the girls" not to talk to the ladies in two other departments, because "we don't like them." Never mind that we needed to work closely together to serve the customer. I ended up breaking the "unofficial rules" and taking my breaks alone every day.
Fast forward a few decades.
As we work with organizations of all sizes to strengthen teamwork, we rely on a seemingly unscientific method to sense how well the team is working together.
We listen. By just listening randomly, we pick up small but enlightening clues about how team members are relating to one another. For example, if we hear team members predominantly referring to "me" or "my" instead of "we" or "our," this gives us a good read on how the team is functioning, or not functioning, as it were. If we hear folks talking about "they" or "them" when referring to other members on their team, it's likely that they are "pulling apart" rather than "pulling together."
And, of course, when team members are busy blaming each other, this is very telling, and costly. The practice of blaming is a sure sign that the teamwork is breaking down, and blaming will always cause folks to pull apart. Blaming costs big bucks for organizations allowing or encouraging it. Granted, the cost of blaming is very hard to track, but at the least, the time and energy spent blaming could better be invested in pulling together to solve the darned problem.