Is our society operating on corrupted versions of true teamwork?
Our global society works through teams and there are many situations in life where we need to be part of a team. Families may see themselves as a team; corporations call upon their employees to contribute to and do their part for the team; we value working together as a team and most of us will have experienced a sense of satisfaction whenever a team pulls together to address a crisis – such as in a widespread disaster – or to collaborate to produce something. This can be anything from a newsletter to a product to sales figures or, indeed, to any outcome.
Then there are the sporting teams that many of us affiliate with, sponsor and barrack for. This type of team highlights that there remains within many concepts of teamwork the reality of individualism and self-gain. In the sporting arena, we are adversarial with all teams other than our own and the aim of the game is to defeat all the other teams and secure personal glory for our own, often at any cost. The many recently publicised doping scandals, ball tampering scandals and other unscrupulous practices attest to this. This type of team indicates that our concept of teamwork is accompanied by a slightly larger version of ‘self,’ where self is extended to include those who support the same team to the rejection of those who don’t – at times to the point of denigration and violence.
Hence, our teams are based on competition and winning and the teamwork and cooperation that occurs does so only in the context of one’s own team. In other words, our teams are actually highly exclusive.
Nor is this exclusivity limited to sporting teams. In business, there is fierce competition to secure a large percentage of the market share for the products that each corporate team produces and there is huge competition among brands – even when the brands are produced by different arms of the one same parent company! Such rivalry can be often observed in siblings in the same family and there is even a body of psychological literature on this ubiquitous phenomenon, which ironically, is seen as normal (1). This belief-based normality is often encouraged and validated in schools, both by the allocating of children to differing sporting houses, by encouraging the participation in competitive sport both at school and then between schools, as well as by having academically competing teams in the classroom.
The latter phenomenon – working in groups or teams in class – is seen as a ‘good thing’ as children can share their expertise and knowledge with each other. However, teachers like myself often observe how there can still be an edge to these situations and that students still want to know which team effort was the best and whose information was right and whose was wrong. This reveals another aspect of what we have taken on as teamwork, namely a continuum of competence and value that extends from the best to the worst, with all shades in between the two extremes.
Is it possible that for some of us there is a comfort in allocating oneself a position on this line, even if one’s position is at the ‘lower’ end? After all, as the saying goes, we at least know where we stand. When it comes to teams (and groups), anything that differentiates and distinguishes us from other teams (groups), anything that individualises and identifies us, we’re there – in it up to our necks. These distinctions can take many forms, including income level, brand of car, footy team, type of school, where we like to holiday, all the way down to what we like to eat and when, the clothing that we wear and the country in which we live. There are ‘people like us,’ and then there are…. the rest, everyone else.
As I’ve witnessed in the profession of teaching – and many other social contexts – even the good or positive teams have the propensity to demonstrate the same qualities of the ‘all about me’ focus, equally as much as the more overtly competitive teams.
This brief set of observations reveals some of the characteristics we have accepted and normalised as being characteristics of a team: individualism, self-gain, adversarial nature, exclusivity, competition, rivalry, notions of right and wrong, the best and the least, winners and losers.
Looked at in this way, has our current model of team and teamwork been corrupted and so are we working with a model that is fundamentally flawed from the outset and hence must always be limiting in its scope and activity?
Is it time for us to begin the process of re-defining and conceptualising what is a true team and if so, what will be the foundational concepts?
Working from the notion that we often perceive the teams we literally identify with as an extended (or even inflated) version of our ‘self,’ could the very notion of self be a root flaw in the activity of the term ‘team’ so that if we have a team of individual selves, we do not truly have a team? Is there a deeper truth on offer within the phrase “There is no ‘i’ in team”?
One version of this phrase has historically indicated that the individual’s interests must be sacrificed for the sake of the team, often bringing a sense of doing the right thing and even overriding what one feels within themselves. There is a sense that many selves are suppressed in order that one individual attains a form of glory. This glory then becomes an aspirational goal for the multiple other selves under the belief that ‘every dog will have its day.’
However, there does exist a very real possibility of situations where one’s true self is naturally enhanced in the awareness that, energetically, there is an underlying One-ness to us all. This view requires a paradigm shift to acknowledging that everything that we do is felt by, and contributes to, the all that we are all a part of, as well as a huge connection with the true depth of our personal and collective responsibility to this whole. Saying yes to this level of awareness and responsibility connects us with the interdependence that exists well beyond any individual teams to profound levels of mutuality and Brotherhood and to vast reservoirs of respect and care not witnessed under the corrupted, historical paradigm.
Parenting is one such example of this. The current model locates us in isolated families where Mum and Dad parent their children, perhaps at times backed up by grandparents and other relatives. An alternative and considerably more expansive model of parenting offers how every adult who enters a child’s field of experience is potentially a parent to the child; that every adult is aware of this and brings the same level of care and responsibility as do the parents, in the knowing that everything they do or express reflects certain qualities to the child for good or ill. This awareness also extends to adults who never physically see the child but who construct or market products that the child will ultimately utilise or consume. If a company manufactures beds and another bedding, do each of those companies consider that the quality in which they manufacture their goods and services, the relationships among their staff, their motivation for business, ALL bring a reflection of quality to children who use what they sell or make? This makes for a very broad understanding of Team and the true responsibility that goes with this.
Additionally, this latter situation would place parents in the position of needing to discern the prevailing energy of products and services that they buy. Refusing to buy goods that have been manufactured on the basis of greed for example, are then revealed and wiser, more supportive choices become possible. In this way, our collective, broader team becomes wiser too, as we all start to call out energies like greed or self-gain, which are actually inimical to us all.
In the face of such awareness, one can most assuredly state that our current and historical models of team and teamwork are indeed corrupt insofar as they serve only the immediate self-interest of a narrow group, disregarding the whole of which we are part. Working with the whole serves all of us and opens us up to deeper aspects of ourselves that we have long since forgotten or ignored. These aspects actually support us to connect with our true Self, our Soul.
This awareness of our true ‘team’ – humanity – then invites a true and purposeful way of interacting in our more localised and personal smaller teams: it is no longer just about ‘me and mine’ but about the relationship of ‘me and mine’ to our global family. This can all occur with a relatively simple shift in awareness that the ‘I’ lives within an inextricably interdependent whole that it will one day surrender itself back into. Then what is required is to move in a loving and caring manner, knowing that our every movement reflects this quality to everyone else, giving them permission to do and be likewise. In this model, we are none of us a ‘dog’ waiting for ‘its day.’ Every day is our day and can be lived as a beautiful confirmation and expansion of the loving qualities that are part of us all.
The most challenging part of this process is perhaps, the honest admission that long ago we ditched this true model and way of being for a series of increasingly corrupt and dehumanising alternatives in order to entrench the reality of individualism. Now it falls to us all to reclaim these true ways of being from the corrupted versions we have all complicitly created.
By Coleen Hensey, BA (Hons), Grad. Dip.Ed
- Melbourne Child Psychology & School Psychology Services, P. (2019). How to Reduce Sibling Rivalry. [online] Melbournechildpsychology.com.au. Available at: https://www.melbournechildpsychology.com.au/blog/how-to-reduce-sibling-rivalry/ [Accessed 28 Oct. 2018]