Why Do I Love Working with Many? It’s the Humanity of it All

When I started my coaching practice three years ago, I quickly realized that it could be a very lonely profession. I found myself coaching individual clients, with no day-to-day peer contact, no collective projects, and nobody to share impressions with or seek advice from. Of course, there are communities of coaches out there that are quite active, but even active engagement within the coaching community is no substitute for collaborative work.

As soon as I became a certified professional coach, I knew I needed to find a way to work with a team again. I have worked within groups my entire career, and I was missing the inflow of energy from teamwork that is not only fulfilling, but vital to me personally and professionally. I decided to embark on a course of study focused specifically on team and systems coaching, called Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSCTM by CRR Global). So off I went for six months of training, which became a full year when I volunteered to be an assistant teacher.

I did this work because I am fascinated by systems dynamics and learning how teams work — not just from within, as was the case in my corporate career, but also as an outside observer. ORSCTM deepened my understanding of teams, and provided tools I could use to coach them. The insights I gained, and the skills I acquired, created a pathway very early in my coaching career that led to stimulating engagements with international teams spanning Latin America, Europe and Asia. Re-engaging with teams made me realize how much I had missed that experience, and allayed my fear that coaching would be a solitary profession. I was home again.

This made me think about what’s so special about working with teams, whether leading them, participating in them, or coaching them. This topic is especially relevant today, as the global onset of COVID-19 necessitated remote work, and accelerated the trend toward more flexible work-at-home policies, with the result that many teams haven’t been physically together for months on end.

Many of my clients are frustrated by this situation, and saddened by the lack of face-to-face interaction with their teammates. They feel they are losing a sense of belonging, which can sap energy and creativity. They miss the inspiration, fun and sheer physical experience of working together in the same location. And for those leading teams, they feel they have lost a certain intuitive understanding of their teams without opportunities to take the pulse of their group, even simply observing body language at the coffee machine. As productive and successful as remote working is for many, it doesn’t totally replace real physical interactions.

So, what’s missing?

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” African proverb

Aristotle famously observed that “man is by nature a social animal.” More recently, developments in the field of neuroscience help explain why. Let me share a few insights from that field that strike me as especially relevant today.

“Human beings are wired to connect — and we have the most complex and interesting social behavior out of all animals,” said Michael Platt, Ph.D., a biological anthropologist, at a 2019 conference on the social brain. “This social behavior is a critical part of our adaptive toolkit. It allows us to come together and do things that we wouldn’t be able to do on our own. We’re only just beginning to uncover how these mechanisms may operate in real world activities, and the findings are really exciting.”

“The importance of social connection is so strong,” Matthew Lieberman writes, “that when we are rejected or experience other social ‘pain,’ our brains ‘hurt’ in the same way they do when we feel physical pain.”

Lieberman, a professor of psychology, psychiatry and biobehavioral science at UCLA, adds: “Social and physical pain are more similar than we imagine. We don’t expect someone with a broken leg to ‘just get over it.’ Yet when it comes to the pain of social loss, this is a common — and mistaken — response.”

Our social nature is so powerful that it may even dictate how effective we are in developing new innovations and producing major societal changes. “We’re wired to see things and think, ‘How can I use this to help other people that I know?’” Lieberman says. “I can have the most brilliant idea for an invention, but if I can’t convey that to other people in a way that they’ll help me build it and market it to other people, it’s just an idea in my head. If we’re not socially connected, even great ideas wither.”

So, to all of you longing to be with your teams again, and to enjoy the stimulation that working together brings you: what you are experiencing is your very humanity. It’s normal that you miss the connections that bring out the best in you.

Your creativity, strategic abilities, curiosity, motivation, empathy, achievement orientation, engagement, and your synchrony will come through powerfully when you are in contact with others, in the flesh. That’s how we’ve been hard-wired for thousands of years.

While remote work will remain more common even after the pandemic recedes, effective leaders must find ways to bring their teams together physically. But it will not be enough simply to gather the troops. In a radically changed work environment, leaders will have to clearly articulate why, how, and when in-person work, and the social connections it fosters, will accelerate growth, innovation, and fulfillment.

If you want to attune your connection to your team, I can help. I’ve coached leaders and teams through transformations, adjusting to the pandemic, and most importantly, finding a collective voice and a shared purpose — something that is especially essential now. Contact me to set up a consultation.

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