You Are a Team
By Jennifer Allen Newton
We often tend to think of teams in terms of organizational structures – people with whom you work, cooperate and collaborate in order to get things done. But just because one is expected to work within a particular team doesn’t mean the interpersonal relationships within that team reflect the best strengths and values of teamwork. And the degree to which we find ourselves in teams that do – or do not – have strong teamwork can have a huge impact on our mental, emotional and physical health.
According to the VIA (Values-In-Action) Institute on Character:
“Research findings on the benefits of the strength of Teamwork found those high in teamwork elicit and experience a higher level of social trust and have a more positive view of others. Seven team roles that can be identified through our character strength profiles include idea creator, information gatherer, decision-maker, implementer, influencer, relationship manager and energizer. People vary in terms of which roles align best with who they are, and greater life satisfaction is associated with the degree to which a person fills the role that is most optimal to them.”
The most successful teams have people who fill a variety of these roles. Chances are you’ve been in teams that have too many strengths in one area and not enough in another. For example, when a team has a lot of idea creators and information gatherers, but no decision makers or implementers on board, the team’s work can have a hard time making it to the finish line. Likewise, if you have a bunch of decision-makers and implementers without strong idea creators or relationship managers, the group can quickly get stuck in conflict about the best approach.
It’s tempting to think that the most successful team would be made up of people who have a lot in common. But, in reality, the strongest teams tend to have more diversity. They are, ideally, in alignment working toward a common goal, but how they get there involves a complex interplay of collaborative people bringing their best strengths and perspectives to the table.
When you find yourself in a strong team that works, everyone is contributing and feels a sense of ownership. It feels like the whole of the team is greater than the sum of the individuals within it. It’s like a great rock or jazz band where the individual players riff off of each other to create a singular sound in a stellar performance.
This kind of positive collaboration with other people creates a sense of belonging and fulfillment that benefits our emotional state and can have lasting physical effects. Our hearts and minds open and the areas of our brain engaged in elevated thinking kick into a higher gear, enabling us to think more creatively. At the same time, the emotional centers of our brain flood the body with positive hormones and neurotransmitters and our stress hormones diminish.
These positive team interactions nourish us at the physical, chemical and energetic levels by sending messages to our trillions of cells telling them “things are going well.” All the systems of our body – including the brain and nervous system, immune system, hormones, heart, lungs, and digestive tract – work together more harmoniously like a well-organized, mind-body team, keeping us healthy and able to perform at our highest levels. This may seem hard to believe, because we tend not to notice when things are going well. But I’m willing to bet you have experienced the opposite of this.
When you’re on a team that isn’t working together well, when you struggle, when relationships are tense, when the group is unfocused and members become frustrated or angry, you are far less likely to reap the positive health-related rewards and, unfortunately, the entire process of getting to a successful outcome becomes a huge energy drain.
Energy drain due to stress – not the good kind – has the exact opposite effect of everything I mentioned above: your mind-body team starts pumping out cortisol and other stress hormones, kicking off a “fight, flight or freeze” response that cascades throughout your entire being. This disharmony sends messages to your cells telling them “things are not going well” and your bodily systems go into panic mode. The heart starts pumping harder, blood pressure rises, breathing becomes shallow, the immune system shifts, digestion grinds to a halt or speeds up to empty everything out before you have to run away from whatever awful thing is pursuing you (the body doesn’t know the difference between a spiteful encounter and being chased by a tiger).
While one bad meeting might do this temporarily, chronic stress can lead to chronic physical issues in all of the areas above. And, it depletes us, making us less resilient to disease and future stress.
How you experience teamwork and relationships with others in your outward daily life, has a direct impact on your health and well-being. This means every team in your life, not just at work. It could be through organizations or sports. It also means your family, your marriage and your social networks – any situation in which you cooperate and collaborate with other people.
If you find yourself on a team that isn’t functioning well, it is essential, for your own mind-body health, to determine how committed you are to making it work. Start by asking yourself: Am I contributing in a way that is consistent with my strengths? Am I bringing my best self to the team and the task at hand? Am I behaving in a way that is dedicated and cooperative? If your answer to any of these questions is no, then it may be time to re-evaluate your alignment with the values of the team.
If you want to continue, then consider the actions you can take to create a better, less stressful team experience. Even small shifts can change the entire dynamic of the group and get it headed in a more positive direction. It may be as simple as balancing the team with different strengths, like bringing in an idea creator, information gatherer or relationship manager. Or if you have strengths you been contributing to the team, consider how you might convey your desire to take on a different role. With the right balance of strengths, a struggling team can transform into a collaborative powerhouse where every member gains energy from the experience.
When you’re part of a well-functioning team, not only will your daily state-of-being feel less draining, your internal mind-body team will become healthier in the process.
© 2020 Jennifer Allen Newton. All Rights Reserved.