Networks and Community
Sometimes I read something and want to respond with a “duh!” It is even funnier when some very smart, high-level people “discover” something that I was sure would be true. That happened to me recently when I was reading the alumni magazine from one of the institutions of higher education that granted me a degree. Arguably it is one of the most well known universities in the land. No one would deny some of the world’s smartest people teach there. So when they conduct research and report their findings, it is usually received with utmost respect.
I do not doubt or put down this perspective. In fact, I am delighted to be an alum of that university and read the magazine with regularity and appreciation. Very interesting learnings come from those pages. The recent short article that is referenced here is given the catchy title, “What Makes Teams Tick?” I have played sports and been part of a myriad of groups, so I was eager to jump into reading the little report.
The article begins with something I am sure is true. The big issues of our time---like climate change---will require what is called “interdisciplinary solutions.” That is to say, biology alone or chemistry or even politics alone will be insufficient to effect the kind of change necessary. It will take people from a variety of disciplines---academic talk for departments. Something like climate change is a science issue, a political issue, a social issue and, perhaps even, a religious issue. All this will be brought to bear to create a solution. In effect, teams are going to be need---cross-disciplinary teams.
The question the study focused on is what makes successful interdisciplinary or cross-disciplinary teams. Or if we want to put it in business language, how do cross-functional teams in a business work well together? What makes some teams very effective and other teams less effective? All the people studying this conclude it is not simply talent alone that makes great teams.
Of course, anyone who has every played sports knows this. Some basketball teams, for example, which clearly have the most talented players do not always win. A team with highly talented athletes may not be a very good “team.” There can be egotism, selfishness, etc. that prevents highly talented teams from winning. Good, effective teams apparently require more than simply talent, whether that be the best shooter for basketball or the smartest for a big human problem to be solved.
What emerged in the study as a key factor was the “emotional aspect.” In other words, it is not brains alone that make effective teams. Duh! The authors of the study focused on interdisciplinary teams---networks---to see what made them tick. In addition to the intellectual factor, they found “also emotional and interactional elements” made a huge difference.
I can appreciate the intellectual language the study used, but find it can be off putting to non-academics. For example, one author found that effective groups or teams experienced a “collective effervescence!” This means they liked each other and got along. Duh! Another one of the authors is quoted as saying, “What our study suggests is that we need to pay special attention to something that we sometimes take for granted or forget…” Her conclusion is clear: “Successful collaboration requires the construction of a group identity.” In my simple words, if all the “me’s” can become “we,” you got a strong team in the making.
Finally, the authors of the article were able to become simple. In describing what makes teams tick, one of them notes, “They really like each other…” Duh! I don’t want to belittle the fine study. For me it confirms what my experience and common sense already told me. What makes good teams is more than brains or talent. They have to really like each other.
My spiritual language for this is community. Community is what you get when a group moves through the formation process just described. Authentic community is where every individual knows the community is more important than any one individual. There is mutual respect, caring and sharing within the community. The community often provides meaning and purpose to the individuals.
High performing teams or communities know that succeeding is more fun because the group did it. And failing or even suffering is tolerable because the community is still intact. I have experienced this especially in my spiritual communities. In my own Christian tradition, this is precisely what Jesus wanted when he gathered his disciples together and used the image of body to talk about their unity. The community was one body make up of many members. There is power in this communal reality. They could withstand persecution and, often, martyrdom.
I wonder if spiritual communities are not still potential powerful players in the “big solutions” needed for our world problems. I think so and I hope so.