There is an old maxim that a camel is a racehorse designed by a committee. Not everyone has the humility or the empathy to work on a team. Teamwork requires the ability to recognize the role and contributions of other people. On a team, everyone is important.
At Google, everything is done by teams. A Google criterion for hiring is called “Googleyness…your bias to action and your collaborative nature.” (Also, see “The Myth of the Genius Programmer.”)
People with humility can have the openness to see and understand that camels and racehorses have equal value and different functions.
Another key quality for innovative teams is empathy. Tim Brown, president of IDEO, wrote in a post called “A Lesson in Empathy,” “Without the understanding of what others see, feel, and experience, design is a pointless task.”
Some people will point to great leaders (corporate, military, or sports) and their reputations for intimidation and self-centeredness. To create a deeper understanding of empathy among team members, the most successful corporate, military, or sports teams sense and feel the flow of the team and play off each other with a team centeredness to win.
Every team needs a leader. Irrespective of the team leader’s management style, every team needs to have a sense of connection, a common mental flow to become creative and responsive as a team. The best teams have leaders who, irrespective of the leader’s style, are under a leader who is in the same sense of connection.
When I first read about the value of humility, I had trouble getting to an understanding of the term. The word empathy sounded nice, but it was a slippery concept for me relative to the word sympathy. What I have come to understand is that humility and empathy enable me to release my focus on me. They free me from having to have all the answers. I do not have to see myself as less than or greater than other people. The two traits allow me to open my mind and learn.
One of the most difficult supervisors I ever had was totally reliant on his teams for decisions. When anyone brought a matter that required a decision to this supervisor, he wanted to know the situation and he wanted the team member to recommend solutions. This supervisor was always under a great deal of pressure himself, constantly dealing with multiple issues, and he would become very demanding of team members.
Once he was given a recommendation, he would ask questions about the recommendation, and would bore in with more questions regarding a team member’s recommendation.
The intensity of his management style could create so much pressure that the team members if possible would avoid getting in front of him until they had thoroughly prepared. This supervisor wanted to know his options, and because he was so busy, preparation before meeting with him was very important to him.
In the process, he was teaching team members to think through situations so that they were learning the process of decision making.
At the time, I did not recognize how much this supervisor counted on his teams and that he could sense when the team member felt uncertain about a recommendation.
Did this supervisor have humility and empathy? I would answer yes. He always counted on his team and sensed what they thought and felt. Was this team approach the best for innovation? I would answer no. This team approach was designed for meeting deadlines. The play clock is ticking. The product must ship tomorrow. There is no room for error. However, whenever the innovation requires a pressing deadline, team leaders sometimes must raise the level of intensity.
So teamwork and humility and empathy are not about creating an environment but about creating results from a group of people who must rely on each other for the good of the team results.
So be extraordinary. Develop a team mentality. Become cohesive and recognize when to surrender to team decisions with humility and empathy.