The “We” and the “Me” on Teams

Published: March 21, 2019

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.

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 College 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.