“Bring your whole self to work”
It’s a theme that appears regularly in blogs about work and teams. It’s an attitude touted as a way to successfully support teams and working together. Bring your entire human-ness because all those factors that make you (oh-so-very) you affect your performance, your team’s performance, the experience of the team.
I believe this.
I’ve lived both sides of this coin
Boeing: Not Bringing my Whole Self
Right out of college, I worked for Boeing in the black world. Every day, I walked into a the lowest level of a building with no windows, 2 entrances, no phones, no access to the outside internet. My work world felt removed from my regular life. I didn’t like it.
ThoughtWorks: Your Whole Self is Constantly at Work
Next, I worked for ThoughtWorks doing traveling software consulting. We would travel 5 days a week to different towns for weeks in a row with the same team. We flew on the same flights, we stayed at the same hotels, we ate meals together. During work, we pair-programmed, sitting side by side working on the same code, communicating constantly, for 8 hours a day. Our personal lives ended up inextricably woven into our work life. While the travel got hard, I liked this. I felt supported, like I was part of a community.
Why teams, why now?
My work is in turmoil. Again. For probably the 3rd or 4th time in a year, I have a new manager. My team has been split. We have a new charter, a whole wild new set of work. There were layoffs. I have new responsibilities, and I’m not sure how to do the tasks in front of me, necessarily. There’s no way for me to be placid in this sloshing sea of change. I can’t imagine my teammates feel swell either. So, I’m writing this as a reminder to myself to be open to the challenges we’ll face individually and as a team.
But can this apply to skydiving? Absolutely.
My Belief: “Bring your whole self to your team”
I believe this thoroughly. We can’t possibly succeed as a team if we can’t problem solve as a team. We can’t problem solve as a team if we don’t have all the information. If a teammate tends to bonk hard if they don’t eat while training, we need to know. If a teammate needs to creep jumps, instead of just walking them to really understand the angles, we need to know. If a teammate needs solid sleep to remember the jumps and the performance keys, we need to know. If a teammate needs crowd-sourced support to help them get in shape for the season, we need to know.
Why? Because then we can help, as a team. For your low-blood sugar teammate, you can help remind them to bring snacks, or be understanding when they need extra time the night before the camp starts to get groceries. For your teammate that needs creeping, you can suck it up and show up at the DZ extra early to do all the creeping they need. For the sleepy teammate, you can encourage them to make travel decisions that will help them get sleep, and you can give them a pass if they skip team dinner to sleep. For your teammate that has a hard time getting motivated to do workouts, you can both agree to a squat challenge or a push-up challenge or a running challenge, and check in regularly.
I can hear the outcry already…
Shouldn’t your teammate just suck it up and be responsible for themselves?
Short answer: yes, but…
Long answer: yes, but you’re a team. Your goal is to succeed AS A TEAM.
If you truly want to succeed, you’ll have a much easier time if you approach challenges TOGETHER. It’s not babying each other; it’s support. We all have strengths and weaknesses. If I can use my strengths to help you, and you can use your strengths to help me, we will be better off than if we tried to operate as lone wolves. That is teamwork. Otherwise, it’s just four people that exit a plane at the same time or hop in the tunnel at the same time. It’s four individuals.
It’s like, in tech, the Blameless Retrospective Prime Directive: “Regardless of what we discover, we understand and truly believe that everyone did the best job they could, given what they knew at the time, their skills and abilities, the resources available, and the situation at hand.” You’re better off taking an attitude of support into a team than you are pointing fingers at people’s weaknesses.
How do I know this works?
I’ve seen it first hand.
This attitude let my intermediate 4way team last year earn a silver medal. We weren’t even close to the 2nd most skilled team, by far. But we were an incredible TEAM. We had to make concessions for each other. We wanted to do back-to-backs while training, but one of our teammates couldn’t sustain that pace so we didn’t. We wanted to train where we had jump packages, but the way the pilot flew at that DZ kept injuring my shoulder, so we went to a different DZ. We were new to doing different exits and the technique can be hard to remember, so before we boarded the plane, we had a tiny meeting to talk through each person’s responsibilities on an exit and how we would compensate for doing the blocks on the hill. Could we have powered through doing back-to-backs? Yep. Could I have sucked it up and kept pushing through those painful exits? Definitely. Could we have just said “You’re responsible for knowing exactly how to do all your exits”? Sure.
But we would have been in the middle of the pack at Nationals instead of placing 2nd.
I’m a messy person, in that my life has no compartments. I wear my heart on my sleeve and my emotions on my face. I’ve tried not bringing my whole self into things and it makes me dreadfully unhappy. I’ve been on a number of software teams where other people don’t bring their whole self in, and the disfunction from that is tangible and it boils up to the top eventually, causing issues.
Bring your whole self. Accept others’ whole selves. Be a team. It will get you farther.