When I restarted my career as a software engineer six years ago, I was the first full-time member on the software development team. The contractors that had been building the web application I was soon to be responsible for were all leaving as soon as they possibly could. They were begrudgingly bringing me up to speed on the technology as they made their way out the door. I frankly had no idea what I was doing in those three transitional months, especially given their minimal help, but I eventually understood the technology enough to pick up where they left off and start adding to the software. It quickly became clear though that I’d need a lot of help to complete this giant project and get it out into our customers’ hands. Shortly after I had become somewhat comfortable with the code, another full-time employee was due to start on the team.
And I was dreading it. Wait, what? Why was I dreading it?
Because I felt threatened. I was scared that he would “find me out” and “expose me.” He was going to be some programming guru that would see me for what I was: an impostor who hadn’t actually coded anything significant in the last eight years (true) and therefore didn’t know what he was doing (also true). He would quickly discover my ineptitude and tell our boss. I would lose my job.
Not only was I worried about him exposing me but also about the woman they hired to join us a couple months later, and the guy after her. The three of them would surely laugh at me behind my back while Human Resources drew up my termination papers.
They weren’t my teammates; they were my competitors.
When they started I didn’t train them much and I didn’t congratulate them when they figured things out.
They were my enemy. There to rat me out and get me fired. That’s absolutely how I felt.
Ridiculous, eh? These people were hired to help me yet there I was trying to prevent them from helping me, because who would want to help their competitors?
I worked like that for a few months, always at my desk, paranoid, uneasy, insecure. We got very little accomplished and I was miserable because I really needed their help to deliver the software but I wouldn’t help them help me to do that.
Then one night I had an epiphany.
I was out with some friends at a bar watching this cover band when it hit me: the band was a team. They didn’t have four lead singers, four lead guitarists, four drummers….they had one lead singer, one guitarist, one bass player, and one drummer. You could argue that the lead singer was more important than the bass player I suppose but was he really? A band with vocals, guitar, and drums sounds pretty good but that bass just gives the music a thicker, meatier sound. In this band – on this team – the bass player wasn’t as noticed as the lead singer but he – and his role – was very important. Everyone couldn’t be the front man – you needed a group of people with different skill sets playing all the different instruments to make the music.
It dawned on me right then and there that our software development team was just like that band; we couldn’t deliver software if everyone had the exact same skills – we needed a group of people with different skills sets writing all the different code to deliver our software. Our four-person team had someone who was great at the web services, someone who was great at networks, someone who was great at the front end, and someone who was great at talking to the users about what they needed (that was me). We were a team, just like that band.
It was OK that I didn’t posses every single computer skill because my teammates had them. I wasn’t a wizard with our tech but I still played a vital role on the team. Once I realized that I became a much better co-worker. I became secure in my role and began to train people, to encourage them, to compliment their successes.
And we delivered our software…through team work.
Sure enough, we continue to deliver software today. I am the manager of that team now and that woman who once intimidated me upon joining the company is now my employee. She is still a better coder than I will ever be but I’m a bit better as a people-person than her; we both have leveraged our unique skill-sets to great success at the company.
And now it’s impossible to imagine getting anything done without teamwork, without the different skill sets of each teammate coming together to equal something greater than the sum of their contributions.
Being a parent is another one that requires teamwork. My wife and I have different skills; I am the funny man, the joker, the creative one who tells stories and builds forts while she keeps our girls eating right, clean, and well-rested. When I’m frustrated and impatient with the girls, she is kind and accommodating. When she’s short-tempered and at her wit’s end I swoop in and save the day (well, I try at least).
Anyway, the point is that we complement each other (usually), are energetic when the other is out of gas (you know, as often as possible), and exhibit endless patience (sometimes) when the other is about to blow their stack. We are teammates and we do a great job parenting our children (pretty much most of the time).
We see it all over the place, that a team gets so much more done than an individual every could. In parenting, in work, in your community.
So what exactly is going on with our government? Do you see any teamwork there? Of course you don’t…and they are running the country.
Referencing my previous (controversial) post about partisanship, maybe this will make my point more clear – it’s impossible to get anything done when the people running the show just automatically oppose each other. You may disagree with me that partisanship is the problem because you feel your side is clearly right and that all you really need is for your side to win and everything will be fine again….but how has that been working out for you over the last couple decades? When your side wins is everything just perfect? Do you become stronger, fitter, happier? Is your election day joy a lasting one?
Or does that other side sitting opposite you just start making it impossible for your side to get anything done again?
Currently the Republicans aren’t getting anything done at all. I don’t recall a time in American politics where a Congress has done less, and that is not partisan-speak but just a hard, clear observation. Everyone would agree on that I believe.
What if Hillary had won…would things be different? Put aside what you think of Trump and try to imagine what Congress would be doing…pretty much looks the same, doesn’t it? There would undoubtedly be some differences but we would likely not be much farther along than we are now.
And that is because our government and current political system is playing a Zero Sum Game. It is one big pissing contest. The left fighting for a control that they’ll never get and the right doing the same. The Republicans rejoicing when their candidate wins only to feel the familiar frustrations of disappointment when that candidate fails to accomplish much in Washington; and the same for the Democrats.
We are delusional to think that our current process will somehow get better or magically fix itself when our team wins. That things will all turn around and be so much better after election day!
It’s completely foolish. We’ve watched it happen over and over and the result is always the same. Why are we expecting a different result the next time?
Nothing will get better – nothing – until the people we elect start working like a team. That is, using their unique skill sets to come up with the best ideas for governance that provide maximum value to the maximum number of people. Collaborate and compromise, innovate and improve. No good team works in any other way. No good parents would have it any other way unless they want messed up kids. No good company would have it any other way unless they want to go bankrupt. No good community would have it any other way unless they wanted it to fall apart. If we align with our spouses on how to raise our kids, if we collaborate and support our co-workers, if we act as good neighbors in our communities, then we have to start demanding that our politicians do the same with their fellow elected officials in office.
When we participate in the partisan game, when we sit in our echo chambers and further push away from our neighbors who are a lot more like us than not, when we elect those whom our favorite news channel tells us to, when we read and listen to only those entities and people who agree with us, then we, ladies and gentlemen are in fact endorsing the dysfunction, approving of the continued ineptitude, and saying “yes” to the demonizing of the “other”…and we end up with exactly what this game guarantees us: