Teams of Two

Published: May 24, 2022

We have many teachers over the course of a lifespan, both formal and informal. Some become secret role models even as they remain unaware of the impact they’ve had on our personal and professional trajectory. Others are selected and ordained with a formal responsibility to guide insight and discovery. Whatever the reason for the relationship's formation, the ideal teacher-student relationship has distinct qualities. This connection embodies the smallest, and often most important, team.

As we grow older, the need for guidance shifts with our developmental maturity. The coach you hired in your mid-thirties might not have the chops to advise leadership decisions once you reach the fourth and fifth decades of life. The instructor engaged to develop the young prodigy has different talents than the partner who makes the learning of music theory compelling for the advanced artist.

Choosing your teacher becomes an exercise in what psychotherapists call ‘leading.’ You want someone who is far enough in front of you to pull you forward, but near enough to be in sight and in reach. You want someone who can assess your readiness for growth and ignite the right sparks at key moments.

Applying the same principles that make all teams work, consider these questions when interviewing your next mentor, teacher, or coach:

  • Do we share both a common understanding of our goal and a willingness to try different paths to the destination?
  • Do we both have comfort with the inevitable tension that precedes resolution?
  • Does our energy and work ethic match up in a way that ensures accountability?
  • Is there an undercurrent of respect and connection that silently supports the relationship?
  • Is there enough space to experiment and fail?
  • Does the alliance create a platform for creativity when problems need to be solved?
  • Can the relationship sustain and survive significant change when things go sideways?
  • Can the flow of interaction adapt to and evolve with both teammate’s growth?

For a team of two to work for the long haul, all of these must eventually be answered with a ‘yes.’ A robust partnership checks all these boxes. You can broaden the definition of the dyad beyond mentors, teachers, and coaches to your neighbors, friends, and lovers while you’re at it. The ground rules for healthy connections are the same even though the stakes may be different. Put your smallest teams-of-two to the test. Choose your partners with intention.

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.