Recently I have read a lot of articles and listened to many conversations that seem to place the individual ahead of the team. Frequently when we talk about group activities like meetings, paired activities, working from home, and co-located work spaces, the issue invariably comes up on how some people don’t see value in those activities. Some discussions take it a step farther and the state that people shouldn’t attend/perform those activities if they don’t see the value in them.
I believe we need to be careful that the focus on the individual doesn’t replace the focus on the team.
I always thought that you get the most value from meetings when you are at the middle of your career. That is when you have enough confidence to speak up and still have a good amount to learn. When you are less experienced, you primarily just sit in the meetings and don’t want to be noticed. Late in your career, you have all of the experience to share but don’t learn as much from the meetings. If anything the value each person gets from meetings tends to look like a bell curve.
It is dangerous to look at meetings in the present and decide they do not have value for you. Perhaps at your current place in your career, they do have much value for you, but they may have all the value in the world for others. They may prevent a major issue for a teammate at a critical point in the project. (or in their personal life) Meetings and collaborative activities are all about communication and helping the team to be as efficient as possible. Many times the meeting will not provide a lot of value to an individual, but then at other times they will be invaluable.
I view working from home in a similar light. I believe it is the most efficient individually for most of us to work from home. We save an hour drive time and sometimes even save the environment from the hot water usage and gas usage to shower and get to work. But for the efficiency gained by one person, we typically have 4-8 others that now can’t just talk to you across the table while drawing on the whiteboard. It is true that technical tools can help to bridge the gap, but there just is no replacement for talking to someone and hearing the emotion and tone in their voice and seeing their face when working on an issue. So again we potentially have a trade-off between the efficiency of an individual versus the efficiency of a team.
So while it is very important to respect individuality, it is important for all of us to remember not to place individual priorities ahead of team priorities.
Now I would never recommend always placing team efficiency over individual efficiency. It is a balancing act that good people and great teams tend to master.
But I do know that the really great teammates I have had the pleasure working with always think about what is best for the team and not just what is best for them individually. They are always learning and growing and eager to share what they have learned.
In thinking about it, the #1 quality in a great team-mate seems to be generosity. They are generous with their time, their talents, and their priorities. They always balance what they desire with what they know to be best for their team mates.