The “We” and the “Me” on Teams

Two things happen on teams after a significant change. First, teammates feel depleted as the energy of the team is consumed in managing the emotional impact of the transition. Second, teammates find a way to embrace the new circumstances. As a team, everyone must answer the question, “What does this mean for us?” Privately, most teammates are wondering, “What does this mean for me?” Fortunately, you can’t answer one question without answering the other. With this, the exercise of coping effectively begins.

Teams operate in delicate ecosystems of interdependent relationships and activities. When any aspect of the system is altered, the rest of the system reacts. No teammate is immune. No one is unaffected. Some may be impacted more directly but everyone must adapt to the change in the environment.

The “we” and the “me” unfold differently. The “we” is usually a conscious, proactive process where the team is steered in a new direction by collaborative decisions. The “me” is more subconscious as our behaviors are influenced by more private worries around stability, power and concerns for our future. Somehow, these two agendas need to fit together.

Human Resource professionals talk about role clarity and workflow. Whatever the change, the work of the team needs to get done. Business continuity is achieved when change is seamless. The easiest way to experience seamless transitions is to achieve role clarity. Simply, every teammate can define how his or her job changes and what the specific impact is on every other teammate. Everyone knows where their role ends and their teammate’s role begins including what aspects of their job overlap.

So, bring on the change. Acknowledge the natural depletion to the ecosystem and find a way to get refueled. Then, answer both the “we” and the “me” questions. The private, selfish worries eventually give way to a more utilitarian agenda. When we seek the greatest good for the greatest number of teammates, roles get clear and work flows…until the next round of changes.