Community//

Don’t make “Teams”​ a zero-sum game

This is the story of teams which are not a zero-sum game. Where 100% You + 100% Me = Stronger Us.

don't make teams a zero sum game

Alpha, Gamma, and Enso could be a family team or a work team. Alpha is the declared team lead, Gamma, the underutilized team member, and Enso represents a child or a younger employee mentee.

Two birds, Alpha and Gamma were flying high when they noticed each other. Impressed with each other’s skills, they started flying next to each other. It became a daily habit, and soon they were flying with each other, teaching tricks to each other and indulging in friendly competitions. They both believed in the universal principle of nesting together and decided to team up to build a nest. 

Gamma aspired to continue their flights together and explore the bluer, higher, wider sky. Alpha, on the other hand, wanted to protect Gamma from the risks of flying higher and started talking flights alone. Alpha believed it was only fair that in the meantime, Gamma takes care of the easier job of keeping the nest clean from the leaves that would fall in. 

They had grown in separate communities. Alpha’s community was more extensive, where everyone believed in the principle of family safety and division of labor. The nests varied, though. Some were made of shimmery gold, some of iron, and many with twigs. Some were broken too. The gold ones offered tighter security with their opaque walls through which no one could see inside (or outside), though the twig nests had holes all over. Alpha aspired to build a high walled gold nest, while Gamma loved the wind blowing through the low walled twig nests. Together they build a high walled twig nest.

Years flew. Their twig nest broke several times; sometimes, a couple of twigs would fall apart, and a couple of the times, the entire nest fell when the winds grew stronger. Gamma would meticulously fix it while Alpha was in flight. Alpha was often too tired or too excited about the day’s flight that there was no time for Gamma to share much about the day at the nest.

One day their eggs hatched, and now the nest had four birds. The little birds, Enso and Huku, aspired to fly high but started settling with smaller flights as there was no need for them to bear the risk of flying higher. One bright sunny day, a bird from the neighboring nest asked Enso to fly together. Enso was excited. As they reached higher, Enso got scared. The neighbor laughed at the sight of Enso stumbling and started flapping its wings furiously to scare Enso further. Enso somehow managed to fly back to the nest, too scared to share the wrongdoing of flying high with Alpha and Gamma. Over the years, Enso’s confidence crumbled. The neighbor’s made repeated attempts to humiliate and strengthened Enso’s belief about the humiliation being the aftermath of the wrongdoing of flying high. 

It was October already. Gamma was examining the twigs meticulously in preparation for the winter winds when it noticed a soggy twig near Enso’s designated spot. Hiding under the soggy twig were millions of tiny teardrops. Through fear and tears, Enso shared the several-year-old incident and the frequent chastising attempts by neighbors since

The next morning as soon as Alpha left, Gamma took a flight like old times. The higher up it flew, the more confident it felt. There was neither risk nor fear; in fact, it seemed riskier and fearful to stay grounded on the tree. Gamma attempted a few more flights over the next few days until the confidence was fully back again. Gamma then asked Enso to join the flight. Slow and steady, they reached high, higher than the moon and then the sun. Gamma felt a tear roll out when her glance fell on Enso, merrily dancing on the stars, having recognized her abilities. They eagerly awaited Alpha’s return to share their adventure. To their surprise, Alpha seemed more hurt and angry than happy.

Alpha condemned Gamma for breaking the principles. Then challenged Gamma to fly higher than Alpha. After a successful flight, Gamma was mocked for competing and for not fulfilling the designated job of fixing the nest. Enso and Huku silently suffered through the heated debates as fear and sadness engulfed the once happy nest. More than anything, Gamma aspired to set the right example for Enso and Huku.

What should Gamma do? How had becoming a team become a zero sum game?

I met several folks who identified as the Gamma in their teams and agreed to share the ending of their stories. 

Ending 1: The well-wisher seniors (or parents) had coached some Gammas to stick to the community principles. Doubtful of their capabilities and too scared to face abandonment at all fronts, they abided.

Ending 2: Quite a few decided to build separate nests implying a change in job and entrepreneurship professionally and a separation or divorce at the personal front.

Ending 3: Some decided to pursue an open dialogue with their teams. They took measures to understand each other’s needs and established a ritual to refine their principles periodically. Some teams where every member demonstrated self-awareness and a constructive willingness to change resulted in reforming to become a very productive team. Not surprisingly, millennials displayed the highest awareness and openness.

As I continue my research on Teams and Culture, I wonder why so many happy nests are converting into sad ones these days. Here are my reflections:

1. We are all creatures of habits, and our perspectives depend on our experiences and our exposure. To stay a team, we need to ensure alignment in our life principles. Often the Alphas in our society are just reliving the past movies they grew up watching. It is neither easy nor quick for the once stronger gender/race to break their generations-old principles, which have become their habits. Coexisting as a team is possible with a self-aware and open Alpha, else Gammas find sanctity in stepping out. 

2. Often it feels selfish to stand up for ourselves. However, by not doing so promptly, Gamma only encourages Alpha’s old principles to persist longer.

3. In helping others, we help ourselves – The conviction is guilt-free and purpose-led when we fight for someone else. It is often the mentors who stand up for the mentee and in turn, themselves.

Let’s not make teams a zero-sum game. Build diverse teams that embrace the principle 100% You + 100% Me = Stronger Us.

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