Powers Of Two: Why Going It Alone Isn’t What It Is Cracked Up To Be!

Ok, I admit it.  I get pretty excited when I find a book that examines the way people work – together, afterall that is the tag of this website! Joshua Wolf Shenk’s work Powers of Two is a tremendous dive into the way that creative partnerships work, struggle, and ultimately end.9780544031593_hres

Shenk’s is just one of a growing number of texts that have busted the myth of the lone creator, as he points to examples of individuals whose previous position as the lone creator is actually a misreading of history and context (read the book and you will quickly recognize how Jobs wasn’t alone in his work, nor was George Lucas, Vincent Van Gogh or most of the people we look up to).

One of the things that I loved in this book is the classification of pairs that Shenk enumerates. Not all creative partnerships are the same, some favor one who is out in front and the other who stands in the shadows, others present a structure-giver and a content-filler, still others are directors who bring out the best in their stars. Each of these, and likely other models, gives us insight into the need that we have for others as we work (Shenk’s epilogue even points to his own partnership with his editor in making this book a reality).

For many of us, the challenge we have faced in pursuing that great idea, work of art, or new career direction, stems from the isolation we believe we will feel by going it alone. Yet, the reality is we need not seek the lone inventor/creator/designer paradigm. The truth is we all have our strengths and weaknesses. The greatest pairs often account for the balancing out of the weaknesses of the other. Why go it alone and lay your weaknesses out bear as you scratch and claw for success, when working to align with a partner can alleviate some of your major concerns?

What would it look like if instead of one, there were two?

Don’t just take my word for it, take a read of this deep, insightful book and examine what a new form of chemistry and partnership might look like in your own work or play!

Bringing back the human element.

I have come across multiple posts recently on Facebook and in actual media outlets (Check out Adam Grant‘s take) decrying how the social media context has caused us to lose sight of what friendship. Too often in our over-saturated, noisy world we allow an electronically mediated message to get in the way of the actual human element of relationship – and I admit I am a huge offender.

I often refer to people as friends even when I admittedly haven’t talked to them for years, or rarely ever. I have lived in 4 different states in the last 11 years, including 9 different cities, and I am really bad about working on true unfiltered continued relationships (except with my wife and daughter). I am the guy who would rather email, text, message, or post something to you than pick up the phone and call you – if we are at a distance (I will say I would much rather grab coffee with you than those other things, but I think you get the point). To make matters worse, I for most of my adult life have worked in small organizations where my actual human interactions with people on a daily basis are quite limited. Yet at my core, I am a developer, coach, teammate, and community member. In the words immortalized in the show Lost in Space, “this does not compute.”

With an ever-shrinking world, ever-increasing access to information, and the constant buzz that surrounds the everyday life of individuals from infancy to geriatrics, how do we put the human element back into relationships? I don’t believe that it is anything but a result of our lack of human interaction that vitriol is expelled on the comment sections of so many articles, that we are becoming more and more divided everyday, and that injustice seems to be on an uptick.

So how do we create person-to-person, person-to-group, and person-to-community connection back to our society? I wish I had an easy answer, but I don’t. My only thought is that we have to start by being intentional and aware of this reality. We all have a need for belonging, from political parties to sports teams, gangs to religious organizations, clubs to conferences, we need others and we need to be connected. In 2015, I am would like to embark on a journey of reconnecting to the human element of our society – through shared community, phone calls, coffee talks, and video chats.

Will you join me in seeking to bring back the human element to our lives again?

Productive Conflict.

CONFLICTNo, you didn’t misread the headline. Yes, it is possible. Contrary to how we generally view conflict, it actually can be a positive and productive thing in an organization. I would go so far as to state that any team or organization that doesn’t promote healthy, creative, content-oriented conflict will not grow or innovate.

Earlier this week, as part of my work at the SynerVision Leadership Foundation, I was able to co-host a hangout with Bill Stierle. Bill is a specialist in communications and relationships, oh and he also serves to mediate and facilitate high-conflict situations. During our Hangout, both Bill and Hugh Ballou challenged the idea that ignoring conflict in our organizations is acceptable. Bill points out that conflict typically flows from one of three levels: 1) Thinking style, 2) Emotional style, or 3) Belief style.

The reality is when we break conflict down into those three levels we begin to provide framework for thinking about what healthy conflict can look like in our teams. If groups work toward developing a safe-place for conflict (removing blaming, shaming, shooting down ideas, triangulation, and avoidance), true growth can occur.

As innovation researchers are quick to point out, new ideas stem from bringing together things that aren’t normally thought of together…this type of thinking will bring on conflict (potentially at any of the three levels), but if we operate from an empathy framework toward the person bringing forward the idea then we have provided space for growth.

But that isn’t always easy. Many times we get really passionate about things that we hold to (thoughts, emotions, beliefs) and we have trouble seeing how others might think, feel, or believe something that we don’t. Bill suggests we can only build an empathetic link as we connect a “feeling” word to a “need” word (at the 23:53 mark of the video, Bill digs into this area…watch it!).

How does conflict impact your team (positively or negatively)? What have you recognized as you “normal” response to conflict? How would creating a safe space for conflict look on your team?

Be up front, even when it hurts!

One of the most important lessons I have learned in relationships and organizational life is that things that bother you, don’t stop – unless addressed. There is something innate in most of us that drives us to avoid confrontations (though I admit, there are a small percentage who seem to thrive off them). We don’t like the idea of addressing things because we fear what could happen, yet we willingly let the problems reside inside of our head, our emotions, and our bodies.

STOP!!!!!!! I know that it sounds easy, but that is what must be done in productive relationships and organizations. In both settings, it is important to create a safe space where we can be up front with one another in a caring and sensitive way, to state the frustrations, challenges, and/or needs that we have in moving forward.

The flip side to this is, we have to provide this space for others as well. There will be times that we unknowingly have offended, annoyed, overworked, or under-appreciated someone that is important to our daily life. When that happens, we need them to tell us…hurt as it will! This is how we grow!

We daily function with an image of both our self and our functioning that is developed from our internal viewpoint – meaning it lacks the depth and clarity of what we would see if we examined ourselves from a 360 degree perspective – but when we give others accepted space to be able to engage with us, the opportunity for real growth begins!

Today, make a plan for being upfront when your team, friends, or family do things that overwhelm, under-perform, or just plain grate at your nerves. Use “I” statements (e.g. “I feel overwhelmed when this happens”) as opposed to “you” statements (e.g. “You are overwhelming me when you do this…”) *We need to be certain that trust has been established in these relationships  prior to addressing issues.

Life is too short and too amazing for each of us to carry things in our baggage that could be remedied by addressing them gently with those that are important to us!

New Article on Humble Teams!

I am pleased to announce that my new article has been come out as part of the work of a wonderful group at People Development Magazine. This issue is part of a 6-month initiative to speak to the top 6 issues facing organizations today (as determined by the Centre for Creative Leadership). The July issue is all about leading a team!

You can check the article out here.

Teamwork Required: Expanding the Focus

Here at teamworkdoc.com, this has largely been a one-man show. How awkward, right? A website devoted to teamwork being run by a single individual. That is changing. Starting yesterday. Yesterday, the rollout for the change began – less of just me, more of us!

This website is all about how people work – together! The intention is to look at a part of the world that is often overlooked in our “me-centric” society and to shine the light on the strengths, shortcomings, and opportunities for the road ahead.

In order to accomplish this, new articles will be showing up targeting teamwork through the lens of sports, education, parenting, culture, military service, and a host of other avenues.

Again, this is about the “us” being more than the “me”. If you have suggestions or would like to participate as a guest writer, please contact me at todd@teamworkdoc.com.

Stay tuned as things grow!

Give Without Expecting to Get

ImageSo, I admit, I am biased. I am personally pre-disposed to the needs of the group, pre-disposed to helping others, pre-disposed to providing resources for those that are in my sphere. What is exciting is that research by Wharton professor Adam Grant, in his book Give and Take, shows that those that are truly concerned about giving before they get actually turn out to have more long-term success than those that are takers first (though takers do often seem to be ahead in the short term).

Beyond Grant’s research (which is fantastic), this idea has been creeping up in many other unrelated spheres. In his book Startup Communities, Brad Feld encourages those working in and around communities for startups to focus on giving first. In other books like Go-Giver similar principles are encouraged in a slightly different context.

The reality is setting in. People who give ultimately receive even more than those who take, but why? First, let me suggest that those that give actually receive, simply by giving to others (the Apostle Paul quotes Jesus as saying “it is more blessed to give than to receive” in a speech in Acts 20:35). Intrinsically we feel good when we give, serve, help, and care. Retail therapy has become a big part of our consumeristic culture, but it has nothing on giving therapy in the long run!

Second, the reality of givers are that they have a strong network of people. In the process of giving without expectations, you strengthen bonds by showing that you are in a relationship for the long haul, rather than seeking some quick repayment. There are often people who tell you that they are willing to help, want to do anything they can to assist, etc. but never actually follow through (great intentions, but just not the biggest priority for them). Then there are those who are givers, these people thrive off of sharing with others and seeing them succeed.

Today, take some time to evaluate your mode – are you a giver? In what areas do you find yourself more pre-disposed to give? How do you react to the idea that givers get further in life than takers? Has that been your reality?

Teammate of the Year Award: Why the NBA Almost Got it Right!

Last year, among a litany of bigger, more coveted awards a NBA player was recognized for being a good teammate – errr, the best teammate. In the era of self-centered, ball-hogging, hero-ball that has clogged up the ranks of basketball from the youngest leagues through the professional ranks, the NBA did something that shocked me – they honored a teammate.

There may be more than a little bias on my part, but I have been absolutely thrilled with the selections for 2013 and 2014. The inaugural selection of the award was presented to a player whose identity changed from a slightly cocky point guard, who shot too much, and couldn’t run an offense through anyone but himself when he first entered the league to a player who served as the vocal floor-general on one of the best teams of the 2000s. Chauncey Billups had moved beyond elite player, to amazing teammate, teacher, and ambassador for the game. His was a fitting recognition.Image

This year, the award went to Shane Battier (who had been runner-up the previous year), who certainly exemplifies selflessness and team-orientation. Battier, a native of Birmingham, MI (suburb of Detroit) went from being the most highly recruited high school basketball player in the nation (when he played at Detroit Country Day – Chris Webber’s alma mater) being named the Naismith High School player of the year, to becoming another great at Duke where he led the team to the NCAA title and he was named the Naismith NCAA Player of the year (and was also a three-time Defensive Player of the Year in college).

Battier was selected 6th overall by the Grizzlies and throughout his early career was overlooked as an NBA player. Until, teams started to get it. No, Battier is not the quintessential NBA athlete. While 6’8” and having some quickness and jumping ability, Battier is not an athletic freak like you might think of when talking about Michael Jordan, Lebron James, or even Kobe Bryant. But Battier is a dogged competitor, a player who understands the team concept, and frankly has made every team he has played on better (as recognized by the championships won at each level – High School, College, and in the NBA). Battier is a great example and a perfect fit to follow Billups as the Teammate of the Year.

But, what pains me about this award is that outside of the reason for the name of the award (it is the Twyman-Stokes award), the amount that goes to charity ($25,000 to the charity of the player’s desire) and the actual voting mechanics and finish, nothing in the articles seem to point out anything about the greatness of these two players as teammates! What? Can you imagine a story on the MVP trophy or Defensive Player of the Year simply focusing on the mechanics of the voting process?

What about a piece like this (written by Michael Lewis of Moneyball fame) where the teammate is shown for the blessings and struggles he has faced? What about getting real quotes from teammates about the ways he has mentored, assisted, and shown true leadership on the team and in the community? Might it be possible to talk more in-depth about the foundation that the player is supporting, detailing how it fits into their role as a great teammate? Nope. Sorry!

It pains me to thank the NBA, none of the other Big 4 North American pro sports has this award, but could we do a little better in spotlighting what teamwork it is actually about?

The San Antonio Spurs and the Myth of the Small-Market Loser

If you have been reading this blog for more than a minute, you recognize that this blogger loves teamwork, sports, organizations, leadership, and humility – and it is like my birthday when all of these topics collide!

As much as I wish I could say that this article was about the resurgence of my hometown Pistons, as they won the NBA Draft Lottery – oh wait, that didn’t happen. Well at least we kept our first round pick and will be able to still field a growing young team. Wait, that didn’t happen either? Well, at least the Cavs didn’t get to move up again. No? That did happen, they actually “won” the lottery for the 3rd time in 4 years (and this time with a 1.7% chance)? REALLY???? – sorry about that digression, it might be a little bitterness in my system this morning, ok enough about this, today I want to point out just how amazing the San Antonio Spurs are.Image

Within professional sports, one of the constant myths is that teams in the large markets are always the winner. This myth was largely built in the 1980s and 1990s when LA, NY, Chicago ruled professional sports. But in the present environment of league-wide TV deals, social media exposure, and salary caps (in all sports but baseball – though spending more money doesn’t even guarantee things there, just ask the Yankees, Mets, and Phillies of the last few seasons).

An amazing thing happened way back in 1987, the San Antonio Spurs, a team that was one of four ABA teams given “expansion rights” by the NBA to join their league only 11 seasons prior, drafted a 4-year player from Navy named David Robinson. The following year, the team added two assistant coaches to the staff of Larry Brown, R.C. Buford and Gregg Poppovich. In 1993 Peter Holt, the owner of the largest Caterpillar dealership in the United States came on as a part-owner (attaining majority shares of the team later). Then after a horrific 1998 season saw the firing of the head coach and the General Manager (Poppovich) stepping in as the interim coach, the Spurs won the NBA Draft Lottery and drafted Tim Duncan, 4 year player out of Wake Forest University. The primary pieces were in place to form one of the greatest most consistent franchises in all of professional sports.

These Spurs, with an owner who has made his mark with a values-based focus on business, a GM and Coach who have successfully built a roster and coaching staff with underappreciated names, who are well-trained, and fit their organization have become the standard bearer in the NBA. They have won 4 championships since 1999-99 season (the most by any team during this 15 year time frame), making the Western Conference Finals 9 times in that span, and never falling below a .610 win percentage each year (averaged 57 wins a season during that span), and never missing the playoffs. This is all being accomplished as the smallest of the three Texas cities represented in the NBA, and the 4th smallest market of any NBA franchise.

So how do they do it? They win as an organization! Name a player on the team that has ever established a me-first attitude during this era? When is Poppovich a distraction to the team? When does Buford blow a draft-pick (without at least flipping that person in a later deal), what free agents do they bring in that don’t fit? How?

Identity! They know who they are. They know what they want to accomplish, and they find players who fit that type of culture, regardless of personal background (last year they had 10 international players to start their season on a 15-man roster). They win, but they do it with class and with teamwork. If the Red Wings are the class of the NHL, the Spurs are certainly the class of the NBA!

Could 2014 mean another ring for this elite franchise?

Why do some organizations “get it” and others don’t?

What are the bedrock values in your organization? Do you hire based on values? Does everyone from the CEO through the rest of the organization understand these values?