For my daughter


For the past year, while I was writing You First, I spent many hours alone, quietly thinking and writing.  I really like the process of writing so it was a joy not a burden for me.  But after spending many months in my idea person mode, it’s been really fun to be in my people person mode as I tour around giving keynotes and doing book signings. I’m going to use this blog to share some of those experiences with you.

For My Daughter

At a recent event, a man came up to the table and asked if I would mind signing a copy of my book. When I asked his name, he asked if I would mind signing it for his daughter.  She had just graduated from university and was looking for work. Almost under his breath, he said “I hope she has a different experience of teams than I have.” I looked up and he realized I was listening. “Perhaps if she got off on the right foot, it would be better, easier for her,” he said.

I was at once devastated for the man who stood in front of me and hopeful for the young woman who had a chance of something better.

For Our Generation

I could instantly relate to the man’s plight.  I have been on unhealthy teams and I know what it can do to you. I’ve had sweaty palms, sleepless nights, hair-triggered arguments at home. For the most part, when I look back on bad teams (or at least bad team dynamics), I realize I need to take the blame.  I have learned my lesson now. I, reluctantly, lean in to the discomfort and try to work through it.  But I don’t see very many people who do. We shy away from uncomfortable situations and we have the bad team dynamics we deserve as a result.  I wish the man with the book had kept it for himself so that he could have improved his own fate. By believing it was too late for him, he had guaranteed that it would be.

For Our Children

I also related to him as a parent. I too hope that my daughters will experience the profound exhilaration of working on great teams.  But I don’t encourage a Pollyannaish view.  I hope you won’t either. We need to establish the mindset that teamwork is hard work—with a huge payoff.  We must teach kids the skills of teamwork like effective communication, listening, and flexibility.  We have to use our dinner table conversations to talk through tough team dilemmas and to help children problem solve about how to make their teams better. Most importantly, we have to help them deal with the discomfort of relationships rather than trying to protect them from it.

The demoralized people I see on toxic teams still carry baggage from the bad teams of their childhoods. How many type A personalities scooped up all the work to ensure they got a good grade on their group projects? How many corporate bystanders were first pushed aside in grade school?

We can’t afford to raise another generation that falters when collaboration is hard.  We need to set the expectation that teams take effort. We have to teach the next generation to debate and disagree constructively. We can’t protect them from failure and criticism; we need to teach them to learn from it. We have to make teamwork as fundamental a skills as reading and writing.

If we do, amazing things will be possible.

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