Many times this week the topic of diversity and team work came up. In one interview I was asked which one is more important to me, to be unique or to fit in. I believe in individual paths, therefore, everyone must be unique. On the other hand, I also believe that everything is created for a reason; as so we must learn to coexist and fit in. Is that possible, to create a team while accepting the diversity? I think it is possible. For all we know, opposites work better together than similars. Atom for example, the smallest piece of matter, is the best example for a fruitful team work of opposites.
Often when we think of a team, we think of a group of individuals with the same interests as well as the same skills, and at the best of times the same level of intelligence and expertise in the field they joined. About two years ago I started to realize that maybe we have created this concept of the team in a quite wrong way. I would like to share my experience with my children at home on making a team out of two completely different characters. Two years ago I was upset with the way my children left their toys everywhere around the house. They have their designated play area, but somehow their toys ended up in the living room or in the kitchen. Even though they were told to clean up before dinner, they seem to forget their toys here and there all over the house. Even after so many reminders before and after dinner to clean their toys, yet, I always end up sitting on some toy forgotten on the couch, or stepping on another one on the floor and breaking into swears due to pain. One day, I got tired of all this. The next morning I called the family meeting. I explained to my children that any toy I will find in the leaving room or in any other room, after they were done playing for the day, will sooner or later end up in the garbage bin. To show them that what I was saying I meant it and it was not a joke I made a line in the middle of the hallway. I count from that line to the garbage can under the sink, in the kitchen. There were altogether 15 steps. “Here is the deal,” I said. “Every night, after you two go to bed, I will search around the house to look for forgotten toys. I will collect them and what I will find I will put them on this line on the first night. But, every other night, any toy that I will find will be one step closer to the garbage can, and so it goes.” Both my kids, 5 and 10 at that time, nodded and agreed that they understood the rule.
The next morning, as expected, the first pile of toys showed up at that line. When they woke up and saw their toys on the floor they started arguing who left what. The morning after this, again the pile of toys was on the floor, now one step closer to the garbage can. My son Jon complained that it was Jenna who played last with his toy and therefore I should throw one of her toys in the garbage, not his. The third morning Jenna’s tablet was on the floor two steps closer to the garbage can, and now she complained that it is not fair that Jon left her tablet in the kitchen a night before, after he played last with it. Jon was complaining to Jenna, “Well, you did it first to my Nintendo.” Jenna was complaining, “Well, throw Jon’s toys in the garbage because he does it all the time, I only forgot his toy once.” It was time to sit with them again and explain the consequences of their behavior.
As I set with them I explained one more time that no matter who left the toy out or whose toy that was, what mattered for me was the fact that the toy were left where it did not belong. I explained to them that I was not looking to judge who did what, because for me the most important thing was the end result. There was no point on blaming one another because that would never change the outcome that the toy was left behind or the consequence that the toy was one step closer to the garbage can than the toys from the night before. I explained to them that by trying to resolve the issue in the manner they thought would be fair, by finding whose fault was that the toy was left behind they would not get any better results because the facts would not change, toy was left behind. I also explained that often when people argue with one purpose in mind, to find someone to blame or to find who did what and call it justice based on their perceptions, then this type of attitude will lead not only at being angry with one another but to also start playing tricks to one another by purposely leaving each other toys behind.
My advice, I noticed, was given at the right moment because just that day they started to complain about one another for leaving toys behind in purpose, just to get the other one in trouble. I made sure that they understood that if they payed tricks on one another by forgetting each other’s’ toys around I was not going to get involved in resolving any argument of this nature. I constantly repeated that I would only look at the end result, whether the goal of putting all toys away, was completed or not. I told them that I will continue to put the toys I find around one step closer to the garbage can, after each night, no matter what their excuses or motivations may be. One day, these toys will be only one step away from the garbage can. That day, no one knows which toy I may find lying around, and whose ever toy that is, it will end up in the garbage, even if it is their $500 tablet or DS. That day it is not important to know who played a trick on whom, but what toy I will find around. Jenna and Jon both gasped at the same time with their eyes wide open. That night, was my first victory. They were both searching up and down for their toys; Jenna picked up Jon’s toys and Jon picked up Jenna’s toys. They searched and double searched, to make sure that no toy was left behind. From that night on, I no longer clean up toys after dinner.
The secret of team building, I guess, is not in finding people with common interests or common skills; it is not in the rewards for completing the goal either. The secret of a successful team is in making it clear to everyone involved that they will suffer the common penalty for not completing the goal. The fact is that when you promise rewards, people fight and compete with one another, and instead of working together, they work against one another. When you tell them the price that they will all pay if the goal is not reached, team members will work harder to support one another. My understanding is that rewards only work for inspiring individuals to do better when they are working on a project alone, but consequences work better for team building and reaching common goals as a team.