At the beginning of my career, I was hungry to learn from my supervisors and co-workers what it was that made a good boss, how to hire a stellar team, and how to build a thriving organization. Each person whose leadership I sat under taught me so much. There was a lot of good. There was a lot of bad. There was a lot of bad I thought was good and good I thought was bad.
Of design, Ray Eames said, "What works good is better than what looks good, because what works good lasts."
One of the best lessons I have learned in my career is to apply this concept to whatever organization I am part of. From the outside, many opportunities look great. It isn't until you look inside and see the inner workings that you can begin to know if the opportunity has any longevity. What works will always outlast what looks good. Before jumping feet first into a new opportunity, or when deciding whether or not to continue with what you are currently doing, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Do your teammates and supervisors accept you and everyone else authentically?
When we walk into something new, it is difficult not to impose our own notions of what it should be. My standards are terribly high. In fact, I might describe them as scary high. I have alienated people in the past by demanding they meet my standards before I even learn who they are and what important skills and talents they bring to the team--huge mistake! Be sure your teammates will learn your strengths and weaknesses instead of burdening you with their expectations of who you should be and what you should be able to do. Are your teammates accommodating to your level of education and expertise? Do they delegate tasks well so that each person is working to their strengths? Can you fail without risk of shame and exclusion from the team?
2. Does the team operate with honesty?
I've been in environments before where I felt like some furtive night creature, darting along, avoiding being asked to do tasks that were not in my strength set because I wanted, no--needed--to look like I was good at everything. I didn't always feel comfortable or able to say, "I don't know what the project requires" or "I don't know what you're asking me for" or--horror!--"I don't know how to do that." On the other side, if a team member isn't afraid to admit they don't know something, they have to power to ask all sorts of questions and other teammates are given the opportunity to share wisdom and know-how. Question asking, humility, and eagerness to share knowledge are all characteristics you should be looking for in a team. Do teammates clearly model question-asking and humility? Are you comfortable showing a work in progress to other teammates because you know they'll help you make it better?
3. Is feedback encouraging, informative, and constructive?
There is nothing more frustrating than being told you have a growth opportunity and then not being given the resources to actually grow. Does the organization offer workshops, mentoring, professional development, or online courses? Do other team members accept feedback and openly address their own growth opportunities? Can you count on the team to be open and loving with you when it comes to improvement? Along with letting you know what you need to work on, do they tell you what you're doing really well? For a team to operate with optimum effectiveness, time must be dedicated to building the skills and confidence of individual team members.
I have been fortunate to have learned so much from my teammates and team leaders over the years. It is to my benefit, and ultimately the benefit of the teams I am on, that I have learned how to do some things really well. I know how to initiate and conduct difficult conversations while maintaining the dignity of the person across from me. I can maintain appropriate boundaries while still welcoming team members into my life. I have learned how to retain my own dignity in the face of gossip, slander, and meanness. I would not and could not have learned this without teammates and team leaders modeling “what works good” to me. I have learned the value of transparency, authenticity, honesty, and encouragement by suffering on teams that lacked these qualities, and thriving in environments where they were present.
Authentically accepting yourself and your team members for who they are, building relationships based on what is true, and creating environments where team members are celebrated for what they bring to the table and not criticized for what they don't, is key to building communities and organizations where individuals are fulfilled and empowered. These values are what “works good” and are hallmarks of being a member of a team, in whatever capacity, that is built to last.
To read more of what Kate writes, visit her blog.