Teamwork: Co-Worker Care

It’s at the core of what teamwork is all about; first and foremost. Caring for others on your team with whom you work from the time you greet each other until you part for home.

Teamwork is so essential to working productively and successfully that it’s almost a given in every job posting you’ll read these days. Oddly enough however, when it comes to providing an interviewer with concrete, specific examples of teamwork, many people I speak with struggle. Many tell me that they don’t really have experiences working on major projects, taking the lead on initiatives where they delegated responsibilities etc. While those are examples of working on teams, they are but two ways to demonstrate teamwork. However, there are other, and I will argue much more significant ways to demonstrate your effectiveness as a valued team member.

Just yesterday, one of my colleagues was off work unexpectedly. In addition to her absence, our team had two people on vacation, one working at a second location and we’re currently short one person on our team until a replacement is hired. With our supervisor off for the day, it fell to those of us working to shore things up. As it happened, another colleague and I had a scheduled meeting in the morning on-site, which meant for us both to attend, we’d need a co-worker to staff our Resource Centre for an hour or two with our placement student alongside.

So up stepped one of my valued colleagues; happily and willingly able to set aside the time she’d counted on to do some planning. After our meeting was over, I returned to take my place. While the meeting had kept me away for an hour and half, all had gone smoothly for my colleague. Except, honestly…we’re all stretched a little thin these days, and we’ve been over-extending ourselves for quite some time. As it turned out, that time she gave up to cover was really needed to regain a measure of control and feel prepared for what she had going on later in the afternoon.

As it happened, my colleague started sharing with me just how stretched to the limit she feels. Not only was she stretched thin at work, but a prolonged home renovation is also going on, and I immediately knew that this meant there was no place for her to relax and recharge; what home should be. As she talked, I could see the visible signs of stress; talking rapidly, nervous laughter mixed with big gestures and just venting. This is good; this is healthy, this is sharing a burden and reality with a listener that cares.

Aside from listening, I could really empathize with her because as I say, we’re all feeling stretched and I’ve been through reno’s at home. Throw in the emergence of the Christmas season, decorating a home, taking on a responsibility at work I’m aware of, and I could immediately get a feel for what she was feeling. By allowing her to share, she actually started to feel better. Then she did something I found intelligent and kind. She asked if I wouldn’t mind allowing her to go to lunch when I’d planned to, meaning my own lunch would be set back an hour. How is this kind? It gave me a chance to do something tangible to help.

While gone, I spoke with our placement student; a smart, aspiring young woman who has her own sights set on working in the field and with whom I can see myself working alongside. Here was a teachable moment. Having seen and overheard much of this interaction, I pointed out that this is exactly how to demonstrate care for one another as teammates. It’s funny how many of us are comfortable saying we love our jobs, we love our work, but the thought of saying we love our co-workers sounds odd if not just plain wrong. Well, it’s little things we do like letting each other vent, putting the needs of another ahead of our own etc. that demonstrate care and love for one another. It was important to put a label on this. “Loving” your co-workers isn’t likely on the University curriculum.

While sitting there awaiting her return so I myself could go for lunch, I got a text from my colleague. It was a picture of her lunch, with the words, “Feeling relaxed. Thank you”. I grinned and felt a measure of happiness for her. That’s all it took to bring control back. When she returned, she brought a tea for me, a coffee for our student and I even got a hug of thanks. That too is love and care reciprocated.

Now this isn’t monumental teamwork that saved the company thousands of dollars or brought some new client onboard. This is an example of everyday, small but significant interactions where you can either step up and support one another with genuine care for your coworkers, or you can say, “Not my problem – I’ve got my own problems. I’m going for my lunch now. See you in an hour.”

It’s the little things we do – you and I – throughout a day that over time become our reputation. When you pitch in, cover, listen, empathize, extend help, support each other, encourage each other – these I argue are the testaments of your teamwork.

On every team, some will get it and some won’t. Be one who does.

Regretting The Words Left Unspoken

Remember that special person you never told how you really felt? Of course you do because after all this time you just can’t get them out of your head for very long. You wish now you could go back and tell them how much they had an impact on you, how much you loved them perhaps, and you wonder if/how things might have worked out differently if you had.

It’s wondering, ‘what if’ that tantalizes; because it ignites possibilities of what might have happened had shared your thoughts openly. Ah, but you were scared, nervous and afraid of blurting something out you’d come to later regret. Ironically, after all these years, here you are now regretting the words you left unspoken.

It’s very much like that in other situations too; although the people we neglect to say what’s on our mind to aren’t just potential sweethearts. No, sometimes we find we lose job opportunities to others and later wish we had said a few more things at the job interview. This is often especially the case if we sincerely wanted a job bad. It would have been perfect and you have wanted a job like that in a long time, so when the news came that they went with someone else, it hit like a truck. If only you had said what you were feeling, things might have worked out differently.

Or perhaps there was someone you really valued in your past; that person who made a big impact on you. Perhaps it was their influence that set you on the path you later took or are taking now. A teacher, a father or mother, a mentor or some person who inspired you to think differently, perceive things in a new light. You never said how much you appreciated them and now their gone. Whether they passed on, moved away, have dementia and don’t recognize you, or you moved away yourself, the opportunity to tell them how you feel is lost.

Now the only thing worse would be finding yourself in this situation here in the present. You know, feeling so strongly about someone you see in the here and now daily, but feeling timid, awkward, embarrassed or anxious about sharing how you feel. You’re so worried about ruining things or spoiling your chances that you go on being around them in silence. You wonder, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just open my mouth, pour out how I feel? Tell them?” Of course in your mind you worry about creating a wide divide, making things weird, learning that your feelings aren’t reciprocated and as long as you don’t do anything…you’ll at least have what you have now – which is something.

Opportunities to step up and voice your true feelings pop up every day; but not forever. Take your work environment. You really value the support of a co-worker; they’ve passed on knowledge to you, covered for you when you weren’t at your best, listened to you share your frustrations, applauded your accomplishments and even motivated you when you needed it. There they are beside you every day, and having a real heart-to-heart with genuine sincerity, telling them how much they mean to you sounds both the right thing to do but maybe the weird thing to do.

Really though, what’s so weird? How long have you worked together? All those years and the hours you’ve spent in each other’s company? Why should it be weird to shut the door and say, “Hey listen, I want to tell you how much you mean to me, and I’m being serious.” You’ll likely catch them off guard, and they might use humour to deflect their real feelings, but they’ll likely also be grateful. What they feel in any event is up to them. You’ll feel better knowing you expressed your feelings and took that chance instead of regretting saying nothing. Then they retire, take another job, move or have an unexpected long-term medical leave etc. and you lose touch; opportunity lost.

I mentioned the job interview earlier. How many times have you walked out of an interview and suddenly said in your mind, “Oh, why didn’t I just say _____?Should I walk back in? Should I follow-up with an email or phone call? I really want that job! I’d LOVE working there so why did I find it so hard to tell them how bad I really want it!

Sometimes its convention and decorum that gets in the way. It seems somehow inappropriate to tell someone how we really feel. On the other hand we also hear that employers want people who are passionate about the work they do. So when you do find something you’re passionate about; a job or company you’re sincerely excited to work for and will invest yourself with fully, why not just open your mouth and express that.

Just like that mentor, potential love interest, teacher, co-worker etc., you’ve got a limited window to risk expressing how you feel. They won’t stick around forever, and the time will never be any better than it is now – today. If you’ve waited for a sign, this is it.

Look, hearing someone tell you how much they appreciate your support, your love, your encouragement, the opportunity to work with them etc.; it’s all good. We need to get better at telling others just how much they mean to us. Few things are better.


Getting To Know A Co-Worker

You might be that person who hangs out after work with your co-workers; arranges Wings Nights, plays baseball or volleyball with some others and is generally the social bunny both at work and beyond. Like I say, you might be that person but I’m not.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not anti-social, I just like to separate my work life and my personal life, and the fact that I live in the Town of Lindsay but work 95 kilometres away in Oshawa Ontario makes hanging around after work to socialize more challenging. After all, I don’t want to arrive home with only an hour or two with my wife before hitting the sack and getting up to drive into work in the morning. My home life in my case takes priority.

At the office however I’m known as jovial, fun to be around, full of creativity, positive and use my interpersonal skills on a daily basis. If you find my self-description similar to your own, or if you want to know how to get to know your co-workers better within the confines of work hours, you might enjoy this read and try what I did just yesterday.

One of the new staff in my office is someone I’ve only known by name and face in the past when we’ve run into each other in training workshops we were involved in. Now that she’s here in our office on a full-time basis, I’ve been wanting to get to know her better and opportunity came  calling yesterday afternoon.

You see I was scheduled to facilitate a workshop which, unknown to me, she had approached her Supervisor for approval to attend. When she walked in ten minutes early, just the two of us were there and we started a quick conversation albeit about the topic of the workshop and her familiarity with the content or lack thereof. As the minutes rolled by, it became clear that for reasons unknown, no one else was showing up to this drop-in workshop.

Now normally that would be a huge disappointment for me, but the next 45 minutes would be the highlight of my day. I ran through my presentation for her quickly so she’d have a grasp of what the people we mutually serve normally hear so we could be consistent in our delivery and support each other as well as them.

Once completed, I seized upon the chance to move the conversation beyond the subject matter and more into a personal conversation designed to get to know one another better. The other option would have been for one of us to say, “Well I’ve got work to do; too bad no one showed up” and go our ways. All too often this happens. I’m telling you people, recognize these opportunities and jump all over them and get to know the people you work with. It was so much more productive than hanging out in a neighbourhood bar eating wings and trying to get into  multiple conversations with several people; well for me anyhow.

So what did we talk about that you might similarly talk about with your co-workers? Well it started with a question of mine (I know, big surprise there right?”) about why she made the move from Social Services Caseworker to Employment Consultant. I was thrilled with her motivation because it mirrored my own reasons a decade earlier. Like attracts like and surrounding oneself with others who think similarly to us is most often a good thing.

We talked what I call philosophy of service, and as much as I wanted to learn more about her thoughts and ideas, I took the time to share my service delivery thoughts and also how gratifying and privileged I feel to be in this role I find myself in. Here’s the real interesting thing that I’m sure you’ll acknowledge happens in conversations you have with others: the more we talked, the more the conversation deepened. We got past superficial surface stuff quickly and shared what we were passionate about.

I can tell you that by the end of our conversation I was thrilled to find a kindred spirit of sorts. She also expressed a future desire to join the team I’m currently on which would again transition her role to include workshop facilitation. This lead me to extend an offer of help, support and mentorship. After all, providing answers to her questions, general information and specifics about the most desired qualities to have on this team is good fodder for getting past a future interview and landing a job on the team.

What could have been a huge disappointment turned into a moment of magic. Well, not so much magic because anyone can do this; you can do this. We all have moments each day or several times a week when opportunities abound for dialogue and getting to know someone a little more intimately.

If your nervous or intimidated, breathe and start with, “Hey, do you have a few minutes? I’d like to get to know you a little better than I do if that’s okay.” Open with a couple of questions and you’ll find as they talk, you can stop stressing about your own comfort level and what to say next. Respond with genuine interest and share a little of yourself as appropriate.

When you know those you work with better, you can acknowledge others strengths and become stronger as a whole.

Overcoming Trepidation Part 2

In short, the answer is yes. If you haven’t got a clear idea of that to which I refer, I’m following up on my blog of yesterday, in which I shared the fear, anxiety and excitement of performing a guitar/singing performance in front of my co-workers.

So the question some folks asked me in reply to that post was, “So how did it go? I hope there is a follow-up.” And that’s why I start today’s blog by saying that yes things went well and I did overcome this trepidation.

Gayle Draper who is a valued connection of mine picked up in my post that by sharing my story and illustrating the steps to overcoming my own fears, other people and specifically my own clients can transfer my process to overcoming their own fears. Gayle is like that; insightful. And make no mistake, she is spot on in her summation, otherwise it’s just a nice little story.

So to share what happened, I was fortunate first of all to have had the responsibility of teaching a class all morning on learning computer basics. I shared with the class what I’d be doing at lunch time and what I had done to prepare myself leading up to the performance: getting into the empty room to play myself days before, practicing with three women who were singing along with me, and then growing in confidence as a few passers-by over that period remarked how nice we sounded.

The setting was a staff appreciation luncheon, which based on the time of year leading up to Christmas day, would involve some music as entertainment. First up was a colleague of mine who played 5 songs on his accordion. Some we knew, some we didn’t but it was nice to hear his playing and discover his talent in the process. Then it was time for our little quartet to step up.

So there I was sitting with the music in front of me and my guitar on my knees. For some reason I can’t fathom at the moment, I notice the three of these ladies accompanying me are not standing beside me as I’d expect but moved slightly back and behind me. Then it dawned on me that they were having a little bit of doubt themselves and were more comfortable behind me and standing up against the wall. The second thing I immediately noticed was the chatter of co-workers in the room and not the absolute stillness of the room when we had been practicing and no one but us four was in it. That was my clue to play louder than I’d practiced in order to signal we were beginning.

So for the first song, we launched into Silent Night. In no time, the room stilled, all those eyeballs turned our way, and I sunk my eyes onto the music on the table in front of me. Sure I could have looked up along the way and looked directly into what I’d envisioned and hoped would be smiling faces and kind eyes, but on the other hand, I didn’t want to be distracted and miss a line or hit a wrong chord because I couldn’t find the page again, so I kept the eyes focused on the music.

At the end of the song, we got some claps and an assortment of positive comments. Now we moved on to the second song and I acknowledged that I was still breathing and no one had left or appeared to have stuffed napkins in their ears to block out terrible singing or guitar playing. This would be the number where I’d sing solo the John Lennon part of Happy Xmas, and the three of them would be the refrain and chorus sung by Yoko Ono and a choir.

So there I was singing along when something unexpected happened that I had to overcome mid-song. My right heel had been elevated to keep the guitar at the height I wanted and suddenly it was going up and down on its own due to the adrenalin of the moment. So I put the heel flat on the floor, adjusted to the drop in height of the guitar and carried on. That was just weird, but no one knew what had just happened. Odd.

In the end, things worked out great. Apparently some of the staff even started welling up and had started to cry. Really? To provoke an emotional response is more about the song, the lyrics and the meaning of it than the actual performance of it, or were they crying because the sound itself was painful? I’ll choose to believe the prior.

In our workplaces, we get opportunities to step out of our normal comfort zones periodically. It could be heading up a committee, making a speech as someone retires, making a presentation, or leading a training workshop for the first time. That nervous excitement we feel is good for us, keeps us alive and it’s good to stretch ourselves and learn new skills.

In my own situation, were I asked to play some other time, I’ve got one success upon which to build, and everything starts with one small step. Another benefit is that if others see me outside something I’d normally do and risk it all in front of them, maybe they can be motivated to overcome their own challenges and risk a bit too.

People Are Allowed Not To Be Crazy About You

Ever wonder why there’s that one person in your office or on your team who for whatever reason you just seem to have the wrong chemistry with? Nothing is really outright hostile or anything, it’s just that there’s some kind of intangible distance between the two of you, and it bugs you.

I’d say everything in that paragraph above is good and healthy actually, except for the last three words; “it bugs you.” How logical is it to expect let alone even want EVERYBODY to be on the very best of terms with you? It is precisely because we are so very different from one another that the expectation that everybody we come into contact with and work with will get along with us all the time and warm to us is unrealistic.

We do all need to respect and work with one another though. And if you flip this around, you may find yourself in a situation where you know you don’t click with that other person and it bothers you because you want to like everyone else and in a weird kind of way feel guilty because no matter how you look at things you just don’t feel that positive connection you want in your perfect team.

So what to do about it is the question. Well for starters, is it necessary for you to be friends with all the people you work with? There are many people who get along well with those they work with but never get together for drinks after work, go to lunch with or spend their breaks with. If you are like most people, you do have a few people who you gravitate towards more often at work with, and you have others who you get along just fine with and highly respect, but don’t hang with.

I work for example on a team of 13 people when I look at the staff list. Of those 13, 1 is the Supervisor, 1 is a Team Clerk, 1 Front Reception and 10 of us are Employment Counsellors. Now suppose I was in a position to assemble my so-called, ‘Dream Team’. From all the people in the office, I got to choose the Supervisor, Clerks and fellow Employment Counsellors that would make up my team. Would I be best served by hand-picking those who most resemble my own beliefs, values and work ethic? Should I choose one or two that don’t so that the team has some variables in it that might resonate with some clients more effectively?

Well, I’ve never really gone so far as to fill out the ‘dream team’ roster in my mind. I have however thought of those whom I would most like to retain on the team and yes whom I would replace. Does this make me a bad person? I don’t think so. In fact, I’m willing to bet that I’m not on some of those people’s dream team either. Does that make them bad co-workers? Absolutely not.

Fact is, it’s healthy to have people who come to the job with different backgrounds, philosophies, experiences, education and perspectives. We all learn more from one another often when this is precisely the case because we are challenged to see things differently than our own experiences would have us do otherwise. What we DO have to do however is respect the people we might find most challenging to work with.

So for example, if the schedule calls for me to co-facilitate a workshop with someone who rubs me the wrong way or I even feel indifferent to, AND I LET IT SHOW, then I’m in danger of having my audience pick up on that tension, and the learning experience has the potential to be stressful because of the unintended non-verbal communication between us, or the outright verbal disagreements that could erupt.

And yet, sometimes it is a great learning opportunity for our clients to see how two facilitators who differ on something; say whether to ask about the pay in an interview or not, present their own opinions without slamming the other person’s right to have a different point of view. I hope you can attest to and see the positive nature of how this could really benefit an audience.

Okay so let’s look at you. Think about your own workplace. Think about a person, or maybe a few people who you honestly admit rub you the wrong way or you feel a disconnect with. Is it likely that they feel the same way about you? Now you’ve got to ask yourself one important question. How important is it to me and to those around me, that I take steps to improve this relationship?

If you find yourself answering that it isn’t all that important, you’re not likely to do anything about that frayed relationship. The only danger in this however is that if you don’t take any steps to improve things, things will either stay the way they are now or deteriorate further and can you risk that? If on the other hand, a more positive relationship would benefit you, and by association them, then find small ways to improve things. A compliment on clothing, wishing them a good night. Small stuff that could lead to bigger changes.

Not everyone needs to think of you as Teammate of the Year, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invest in the attempt to improve working relationships.