Over time, it’ll all even out

January 2022
Work Notes

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We’ve all heard that cheesy saying: teamwork makes the dream work. Teams, or a collection of individuals with different skillsets working towards a shared goal, are incredibly hard to get right. When they work well, they can feel glorious. But they are also one of the most common reasons for failure, or worse. Because they’re comprised of people, and people have individual goals, desires, baggage, idiosyncrasies, values, etc.

As I’ve started to manage teams, I’ve had to put some thought into what makes teams tick and what are the most common causes for friction (and how to overcome those). A lot of it comes down to how much one feels like they’re contributing (impact) and how that’s perceived by others around them (reward). A mismatch there can be quite the downer.

The one fundamental concept about teams that only recently began sinking in completely is that the contributions are never equally distributed. Neither is recognition. The whole point of teams is that there are no hard-drawn lines. That each one plays to their strengths but understands when to take a step back to let another member shine or lend an extra hand when someone on the team is struggling. 

So at any given point in time, teams don’t operate on an equal distribution model. They might even out over time, depending on how contributions are measured, but in the moment of measurement, someone will always be doing more, and someone will always be doing less. 

When we set up team agreements, I wish we’d talk about this more explicitly. Either we take this for granted, or we forget to see things with this perspective when the going gets tough. My hypothesis is that if this were more explicit, we’d have less dysfunction in our teams. It’s probably easier to manage this at a small team level but gets exponentially harder at scale.

This thought is only sinking in properly because I’ve been a huge proponent of equality in my personal life and it’s become a real struggle of late. I want most things between my partner and I divided 50-50. We pay equal rent (although we don’t make equal salaries), we split all the bills, and also try to split the chores. I did the laundry, you do the cooking. You did the pickup, I’ll do the bedtime. It feels like constant negotiation sometimes, and that’s mentally and emotionally draining. 

Luckily, my partner who has a higher EQ than I do, and can articulate her feelings quite clearly, said to me, “you know it might not seem like it right now but over the course of our lifetimes, it’ll all even out.

Like with most things that feel difficult in life, a little bit of zooming out does wonders.