We’re All In This Together
Some teams work despite the fact that there aren’t many standout performers. Others fail despite having some rock stars. Why is that? Why is one team successful and another not?
I am always studying what makes a team great, and I enjoyed reading Mike Robbins’ book, We’re All In This Together. Mike has worked with a number of top companies and enjoyed a baseball career with the Kansas City Royals. After reading his book, I reached out, and he shared more about his philosophy of teamwork with me.
At the beginning of your book, you share some reasons teamwork is challenging. Would you share one of those reasons?
A primary reason teamwork can be challenging is that we aren’t trained all that well to work in teams. In school we are taught to “do our own work” and focus on our individual performance. Even playing team sports, which I did for 18 of the first 25 years of my life – ultimately playing baseball in college and professionally, so much of the focus is on individual success – being in the starting lineup, having a good season, getting a scholarship, making it to the major leagues, etc. In a larger culture that focuses on and celebrates individual performance and achievement, it can be challenging to learn and expand our capacity for effective collaboration.
Psychological safety is where you start. What are some ways that leaders can create a culture that supports and enhances this safety?
Psychological safety is essentially group trust – meaning the team itself is safe enough for members to admit mistakes, ask for help, disagree, take risks, and more, knowing that they will not be shamed or ridiculed for doing so. The first and most important thing a leader can do to create an environment of psychological safety is to operate with authenticity. I define authenticity as honesty, without self-righteousness and with vulnerability. It’s also important for leaders to admit when they make mistakes, to ask for help, and to show that they are willing to fail in front of their teams – so as to model this type of behavior for everyone on the team.
You learned the importance of inclusion and belonging while on the basketball court. It’s a compelling read in the book, and I encourage everyone to read it, but would you give us a window into your experience and what it taught you?
I’m white, straight, and male. I grew up in Oakland, CA, one of the most racially diverse cities in America. By the time I got to middle school and high school, I was in the racial minority. And, my junior year in high school I made the varsity basketball team. I was the only white kid on the team, and the only white kid in the entire league that year. This was an intimidating, yet enlightening experience. I don’t know what it’s like to be female, a person of color, someone who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community, or a part of any other non-dominate, minority group. However, that experience (along with many others during my teen years growing up), allowed me to experience what it is like to look different and have a different background than the vast majority of people around me. This gave me some insight, awareness, and empathy that I don’t know I would have gained otherwise. And, the way many of my friends and teammates in those days included me and made sure I felt like I belonged, taught me a great deal as well.
Pillar 1: Create psychological safety
Pillar 2: Focus on inclusion and belonging
Pillar 3: Embrace sweaty-palmed conversations
Pillar 4: Care about and challenge each other
A leader should embrace “sweaty-palmed conversations” or embrace conflict. I agree. What are a few ways to do that appropriately and effectively?
A mentor of mine said to me many years ago, “What stands between you and the kind of relationships you want to have with people is usually a 10-minute, sweaty palmed conversation you’re too afraid to have.” He was great. However, embracing “sweaty-palmed conversations,” while important, isn’t easy. The first thing most leaders can do to get better at this is to admit how hard and uncomfortable it can be. Secondly, it’s important to be real about how you feel as you’re having these types of conversation. And, third, the sooner you have them, usually the better. As the saying goes, bad news doesn’t age well.
Since both are important, how does a team both care AND challenge each other at the same time?
My former pitching coach at Stanford University told me his philosophy on coaching was, “I have to love them hard so I can push them hard.” So true. Making sure the people around us know that we care about them personally is an on-going process that is important. And, if we do this, we then have permission to challenge people and demand their absolute best. This is what great leaders and teammates do for their teams. I use Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors as an example in my new book. He gets in the faces of his teammates all the time and yells at them, but he does it from a place of care and love…wanting them to be the best version of themselves – both for them and for the success of the team. However, he can only do this because his teammates know how much he cares about them personally and about the team winning.
Never has a title so aptly fit current circumstances as we are all facing COVID-19. You obviously didn’t know what was coming but “We’re All In This Together” couldn’t be more accurate. What should we all learn from the pandemic?
While I was researching and writing this book I, of course, had no idea it would come out in the middle of a global pandemic. However, now more than ever, we truly are all in this together. This experience, as scary and uncertain as it is for most of us, is a great opportunity for us to take inventory of who and what matter most to us, and for our teams to connect more deeply on a personal level and lean on each other – both to get our work done and to support each other through this experience. We need each other now more than ever. And, if we allow it, this challenging experience can and will offer incredible opportunities for us to deepen our perspective, learn new skills, innovate in lots of ways, and expand our perspective. My hope is that we take these lessons to heart and hang onto them not only as we make our way through this time, but long after this is behind us.
For more information, see We’re All In This Together.