Why Are My Friends Leaving Me?

Published: April 25, 2011

One of the greatest gifts of change is new talent. While some teammates get mired in mourning who they've lost, others reinvest in who they've gained. How does a team best leverage this change for success?

Sports often mimics business. In my 12th year with a team that has turned over 55% of its roster, everyone’s unique adaptation to change has been vital to our success. Twelve years ago, I survived a try-out and joined an adult recreational soccer team. Despite numerous transformations, the team wins consistently. From season to season, because of age, injury or life’s priorities, the membership changes while the team philosophy, norms and goals remain constant. Today, only eight of the eighteen original members remain actively involved on the squad. Each of these eight old-timers has made a distinct adjustment to their game in order to remain vibrant in their contribution to the team. In the absence of speed is now finesse. As strength has declined, wisdom has increased. Previous starters are now substitutes and former subs now play the most minutes.

Speaking with a few teammates following a recent game, it seems most of us have experienced parallel transformations in our career paths. Although some have long professional tenures with their organizations, they join a largely different set of teammates at work each day than they did a decade ago. Yet the product of their employment continues to be shipped. An informal poll of workplace dynamics revealed some common themes and patterns.

The organization’s investment in a consensus foundation of mission, values, philosophy and vision is activated in team norms and anchored in the way conflict and differences get managed. Teammates are accountable to each other for their unique role and contribution. This accountability breeds trust and closeness. The platform built from this investment and trust supports the ability to take smart risks and be innovative. This innovation generates change which forces everyone to adapt. Ultimately, resilient adaptation empowers a reinvestment in whatever the next iteration of the team or product happens to be. Something new is created that contains the essential elements of the original investment.

Why are my friends leaving me? Because that’s what people do on healthy, effective teams.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.