Working More Might Not Help Our Team

Some have surmised that working more will help their team. It may. It may not. It depends. Here's just one collection of thoughts on how working significantly more than the rest of our team might not help and may actually hinder.

What is "More"?

Working "more" than the team may mean many things. Perhaps it means more time -- more time in the office, more time in certain worthy activities. Perhaps it means more skill -- more productive, better at the things I care about. Perhaps it means more quality -- produce better work at better rates. Perhaps it means more commitment -- more focus, more sense of purpose, more of an innate sense of urgency.

"More", for purposes of these thoughts also means unevenly more -- as in one person or subset of the team doing significantly more than the rest of the team. I won't address it further here, but I think that generally if the whole team can do more together, within their capabilities, teams will get more better .

Carrying the Burden of the Team

When we work significantly more than others, it can be easy to feel like we're carrying the brunt of the workload of the team. The team has work to do, and we're doing the most of it. We come in first. We leave last. Others on the team come and go in between.

If we were to work similar hours to the reset of the team, we'd be less likely to feel that we were unduly burdened. If we looked less at when people were in their seats, we'd feel less like a bean-counting manager. We'd allow others to make their own time management choices. We'd allow ourselves to focus more on our purpose for being on the team.

What Can We Do?

Each situation likely requires thought and consideration of the team and those involved. But here are some ideas on how we might overcome issues of uneven team contribution.

  • If we must count, count hours less, count contribution more. Hard.

  • Focus on ourselves. Put expectations on ourselves. We can control those things.

  • Life's never fair. Sometimes we do carry more burden. Sometimes we are carried.

  • Share what we're doing on the team. Transparency may help dispel myth.

Rise Together

Part of our purpose for being on the team is to help the entire team be better. If the team completes the work together and we need every person on the team, sometimes we need to specifically focus on helping our team grow in capability, focus, happiness, quality, output, or whatever it is that we feel the team is lacking.

We may not really be addressing the issue that needs addressed -- whether a real challenge of the team or something we have conjured in our mind -- by just hammering out more work. If we take this course of just pressing on with greater speed, time commitment, and effort, we may actually make the problem worse, encouraging ourselves to believe more deeply that we are carrying the weight of the team.

What Can We Do?

  • Consider how we might lift the total capability of the team.

  • Be constructive and helpful to others. In order to get here, we need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves.

  • Sometimes we might slow down and invest in the team itself.

False Heroism

Once we are working significantly more than the rest of the team, we can come to believe that the team relies on us above all others. We may attract praise and be singled out. This may lead us to do more of the thing -- the potentially unhealthy thing -- that we're doing in order to attract more praise.

Soon, to keep up this pattern of addictive praise incoming, we may begin to create more situations where we can swoop in, do significantly more than others and hopefully be held up as an example of adoration for others to aspire to. This is a cycle that makes things worse.

Lifting ourselves above our teammates leads to rampant comparison. We cultivate pride in ourselves. We start to feel like we need to prove our continuing contribution. We speak up about what we individually have done to save and push forward our projects. We use a lot of "I..."-subject phrases. We are quick to point out after-hours or extended contributions. The focus becomes me instead of the team. The product becomes my own personal activities instead of the team output.

What Can We Do?

  • Make comparisons for the purpose of helping and filling the deficit of others.

  • See our strengths as opportunities to help others weak in those areas, not a chance to shine above them.

  • Be judicious in public praise. We get more of the thing we praise. Praise can have side effects.

Stories We Tell Ourselves

When we're so focused on ourselves, it's easy to be very out of touch with others. We're often uncomfortable in approaching others about our shared contribution because, of course, we believe that we're doing so much than the rest of the group and are likely upset in some ways with the team.

So we're left to ourselves. We tell ourselves stories about why the rest of the team just can't or won't keep up. We create reasons in our mind to explain the source of their lesser commitment. Some of it actually might be true, but the story is left to us to tell, and it's likely embellished and unfair.

What Can We Do?

  • Notice when we're telling ourselves things in our mind that we don't actually know are true. Practice distinguishing actual fact from yet-unproved fact.

  • Give people the benefit of the doubt. Trust in usually-good intentions.

  • Talk with others. Tell them our concerns. Hear their perspective. We'll probably be surprised with new appreciation.

It is a "We" Problem

I use "we" in this article because I believe we all can suffer at different times and degrees from this malady. We value what we bring to the table, and we should. It's the comparison with our teammates that's the problem. Pride is universal.

I also use "we" because this problem and its children problems are issues that we, as a team, need to help one another overcome. I also believe that every one of us has the ability, hopefully with the help of help of our concerned teammates, to overcome this and other problems that keep us from being better teams.

Great Teams Aren't Perfect

I hope everyone has some number of opportunities to work with great teams. It's an awesome feeling to feel united in a purpose. It's awesome to feel supported by others around us. It's awesome to see our efforts magnified in a greater whole.

Even great teams have troubles. It's never going to be perfect. Don't lose heart. Great teams will be able to have patience, see each other as human beings doing their best, and find a way to make it work and work well.

I think some of this has felt familiar as we've read through it together. We are all still growing on our teams. What have you done to make your teams work better together and not make any one person feel overburdened?