Whenever you put two or more people together, a new culture is created between them. Each person brings their beliefs, values and perspectives to the space they share, and those beliefs, values and perceptions overlap or differ to varying degrees. As human beings, we’re wired for survival, and we’ve achieved that fairly solidly over the centuries. Whilst we’re not generally too worried about our rank on the food chain with regards to the rest of nature, we do tend to spend a fair amount of our time considering where we rank in our daily lives with respect to other people and our general success – however you personally choose to evaluate that. This is our natural survival instinct at work.
Add the pressures of a global pandemic and its fallout, and you’ll probably find that you’ve spent more time thinking about division in the past few years than you have about what brings us together? Not only have we dealt with an incredible amount of change and challenge that has depleted our energy, but there seems little respite. Whether this change and challenge has seen you powering forward or dragging behind, it’s further added to our primal need to try and survive. That primal survival need is wired to make us fight for ourselves – and this can make us single-minded rather than collaborative. This is a short-term strategy though as, longer term, we draw strength from our ability to “belong” and to act as a team. Re-examining where our mindset currently sits is a great checkpoint is we intend to regain or replenish our energy.
Every friendship, every family, every team, organisation, community and country has a culture unique to it. As mentioned, that culture is made up of the combined beliefs, values and experiences of the people it comprises. Because we are primal beings wired for survival, we tend to see each other’s differences before we look for our common ground. We judge and compete with each other because this is how we’re wired to survive in a dog-eat-dog world. Our primal instinct asks “How are you different to me?” and consequently “How are you a threat?”.
Thankfully, in this day and age, we’re also intelligent enough to recognise that it is our uniqueness that sets us apart and allows us to bring something special to the teams and partnerships we join. If one of us is the same as any other on that team, then one of us is not necessary. It is also our ability to find common ground, shared value systems and agreed-upon direction that activates the power of being a team – turning a group of individuals into a unified force, be that at work or at home.
When we put two or more people together, our greatest challenge is both to appreciate and overcome these differences; allowing us to find and take advantage of our common ground without losing the strengths that our differences bring.
Because it is our human nature and survival instinct to evaluate threats and look for differences first, finding strength in unity takes work. It is our human nature to seek relationship, but that need is secondary to survival. Relationship requires us to hang around long enough to hear and understand each other. It requires us to be both voluntarily vulnerable enough to share ourselves with each other, and confidently aware enough of our own strengths to offer them up as part of the team arsenal.
Our unique perspectives gained from our unique life experiences are what cause our greatest frictions and misunderstandings when we assume that our way of viewing the world is right, or the only way. When we accept that our perspectives are diverse, they are also what allow us to cover each other’s weaknesses and blind spots, broadening our thinking as a team so that we see and address more sides of the same environment.
Diversity is the source of some of humanity’s greatest joy and strength, as well as our greatest frustration and division. Our differences are both what strengthens us and what scares us. They divide, and they bring us together. Each of us has a choice as to whether we defend ourselves from differences, essentially creating our own echo-chamber of erroneous rightness; or whether we embrace the perspective and strength that each individual brings to our lives and use it to broaden and unpack our own viewpoints, adding to our combined ability to address what lies ahead and around us.
The whole premise of having a team – be it at home, at work, or in the greater world at large – is that our different ways of approaching things give us a competitive edge. Our greatest strength as a team is our diversity, and yet it is also the source of our greatest disassociation.
In any team, there will be differences in perspective and experience, and therefore in the way people go about things. There will also be pre-set judgements drawn from previous experiences about how people are and what is threatening to us. We can either eye each other with suspicion and disdain (How often are these the underlying factors when we talk to a team member or even a spouse and discover a difference in viewpoint?), or we can get excited about the fact that our differences mean each one of us is necessary! We can prick up our curiosity when we notice that someone else sees the world differently from us, and ask them to unpack that for us so that we can examine their wisdom and adjust ours if necessary.
This is the core premise that teams are built on. Any team – our home team, our work team, our human team. Our differences are what give us strength – the key is to appreciate them rather than fear them. Our comfort comes from finding where we overlap in our common practices and beliefs and, more than anything else, our common values and goals.
Even if you once had a strong team culture that was aware of its common ground and value system, there is no time like the present to readdress and refresh those thoughts. We all draw power from remembering what binds us, what we’re willing to get behind and power as a team, and what our common drives and goals are. The discussion need not be complicated, but it must be open, allowing each team member to weigh in from their unique perspective.
Questions that prompt this conversation may sound like this:
“What are some of the things you value most?” (allowing each team member to weigh in)
“What are the strengths that I bring to this team?” (get the team to speak the strengths they see in each teammate to the person in question)
“What do you think makes this team different to ……(any other team)?”
“What do we need more of in this team?”
“Where have we allowed survival to pull us off track?”
“What can we do to get back on track and closer to a team culture that benefits us?”
by Christen Killick
July 25th, 2022