Is it the Destination or the Journey?

Published: February 22, 2022

Do you prefer a cruise ship to a family vacation? Both options take you to beautiful places. The difference lies in the mode of transportation, the population of passengers, and the choice of who steers. Some trips begin with a collection of strangers while others carefully select the participants. A common destination might be enough to create a connection, but coalescing a team requires more than agreeing on the final port. The quality of the journey begins way before the ending.

Teams are more than a random collection of personalities headed in a shared direction. Yet, many teams are willing to make the final goal the only criteria for membership. Navigating the path to the mountaintop is shaped by who leads, the reliability of followers, problem-solving prowess when facing obstacles, and coping skills when it’s time to adapt to new challenges. So, if your team is more than, “We’re taking a whale watching cruise to Alaska,” here’s a deeper dive into the four considerations that might impact both your journey and your eventual destination.

Who leads

Beyond the ability to drive, the leader sets the mood and culture. The way teammates are treated is modeled in every interaction. The reasons for twists and turns are transparent. An appreciation for diverse perspectives and the value of change is built into the norms and expectations of all participants.

The reliability of followers

Dependability is a natural outgrowth of connection. Connection occurs most reliably when teammates share respect and accountability. The healthiest teams never have to check up on each other’s work. Teammates are driven intrinsically. There’s no need for the dreaded ‘red/yellow/green’ meeting since the choice to stop, yield, or go speaks for itself.

Problem-solving prowess when facing obstacles

Journeys rarely follow a recipe. Unexpected events trigger creativity. The most effective problem-solving employs a blend of what’s worked in the past with invention. Usually, someone on the team has been through a similar challenge and can offer insight into the solution. When the situation is unprecedented, a different region of the brain has to get activated. The teammates most willing and able to serve up creative options arise from the foundation of leadership and reliability established on the front end of the journey.

Coping skills when it’s time to adapt to new challenges

Change is difficult for most humans. Staying the same offers the illusion of comfort as though the planet will stop spinning if we don’t have the appetite to adapt. Our coping skills are established in childhood and are honed throughout adolescence and adulthood. Yet just because we’ve reached the age of maturity doesn’t mean we don’t regress to a primitive state when under pressure. Often, adults become their child-version when stressed. Resilience during adversity is an advanced coping skill.

Choose your own adventure. Select a direction or follow the wind. Demand healthy team culture or normalize dysfunction. Interact with trusted teammates or wear a suit of armor. Create new roads or stay on the beaten path. Expand your coping toolbox or let fate determine your outcome. The journey is the destination.

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.