I’ve always been fascinated by human nature, especially how we as species and culture are a heaping pile of hypocritical paradoxes. In many if not most cases, human nature is predictable and self seeking. From the behavior of realtors in Freakanomics to the politics of the fast lane on the 101, it’s clear we are all guilty of serving numero uno from time to time. At the same time a vast majority of people strive for, attain, and are attracted to virtue and valor. We honor the martyr, even heroize those with discipline and sacrifice, or so it would seem.
Mark De Rond dives into the unexpected, if not powerful, social truths that drive our work environments in his new book, There is an I in Team. The book goes on to share the results of a social experiment where teammates could play a game that allowed for both individual and communal rewards. Within the game, players were able to choose which players they wanted to vote off the island each round. With little surprise simulated “selfish” teammates who pulled from the community for their own gain, and contributed little or nothing were quickly voted off. More intriguing, the simulated “selfless” players were nearly equally unpopular. Despite common perception, teams do not prefer to work with the over giving or selfless teammate.
De Rond goes on to explore other hypocritical truths within each of us. One in particular struck me as a creative leader. He goes on to note that within a creative work environment a certain threshold of trust is requisite in order to allow all teammates to openly share ideas and feel confident enough to take risks and push boundaries. Score, we do that here, good job Engine.
He goes on to contend that too much trust and familiarity can come back to bite you. Shit, do we have too much of a good thing? Noting a recent experiment of MBA students where in the beginning a baseline trust level opened up communication and facilitated success. But as the trust and community continued to grow, the students began to value the community too much. They began to hold back or edit opinions, ideas, and thoughts for the sake of everyone getting along. They sacrificed their best work for the sake of harmony.
In the end De Rond suggests that it is actually the tension between these seemingly flawed schools of thought that keeps teams sharp, motivated, and ultimately happy.
I have to confess that I struggle with this tension and balance. Too many times I fall to the martyr, kumbaya, “can’t we all just get along,” culture. If I stop to really check myself, I wonder if my leanings are as altruistic as I would like them to be, or do I really avoid the healthy tension just because it’s the easy way out.
The truth is, none of us got into advertising to hold hands. We did it to create powerful ideas, to change the way things are done, to forge new ground, to rethink the way the world works. At the end of a long week it’s the joy of producing our best work that keeps us going.
That said, I love our team and our culture. We have the luck of working with a fun, caring, talented group of creatives. It is that balance, that tension to have the freedom and trust to go out on the limb and be vulnerable with your ideas along side the refining fire of collaboration and critique that allow us to produce our very best.
We may owe it to ourselves to be willing to live in that tension, to build a strong foundation of trust, but never hesitate to speak up and not hold back.
What do you think?