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Teamwork Makes The (MY?) Dream Work

Growing up, I understood the value of teamwork in a shallow, theoretical, end of a Barney episode kind of way.

Even playing team sports (that my mother made me play and I hated), I only had an appreciation for the social dynamics of teams. The intricacies of group work were over my head. In my mind I always dreamed of being a superstar and charismatic figurehead who did everything great and on his own. In school I dreaded working in teams. I’d much rather do a project by myself so it would all be done my way and so I was guaranteed to get an A+. Group projects tended to mean working with the less capable and less ambitious. Twice in high school I had an assigned group mate pay me to do the work by myself and to just do what I say come presentation time. It was excellent. There were rare occasions where I was paired up with a great ensemble and those moments were and are the things I dream about. More on that later.

I’ve always been an effortless and idealistic visionary. I can imagine the final product in extravagant detail. My mind’s eye is convincing to a fantastical fault, borderline delusional. Unfortunately, for most of my life, my imagination and strategizing has far exceeded my ability to execute. So many ideas and projects never came to life because of my inability to entertain pragmatism or to break big pictures down into small actionable steps.

There were two experiences in my life where I learned the value and necessity of an organized, multi-talented, well led team. One was my after school gospel choir in high school where I was 1 of 3 directors and the other my college community service scholarship program where I was 1 of 2 student presidents. I learned to lead with passion, how to delegate responsibility, how to share the spotlight, and how to depend on others. I saw the importance of deeply knowing the talents of your team and being able to activate those when necessary. I’ve internalized the qualities of servant-leadership.

As a result I am much more practical and don’t get too carried away with my many big ideas. I live for good leadership and even more so for a great team. My favorite movies and shows are those with an ensemble cast playing diverse and multitalented characters who all play their part to accomplish a common goal. Oceans 11, Inception, Scandal, Agents of SHIELD being some of my favorites! There would be occasions in college where we got to pick teams and I happened to be in a class with folks I knew could get the job done. Those moments were wet dreams. A collection of known superstars each taking a piece of the work and creating something phenomenal.

When I set the goal to start a school, I tried to keep in mind that it was not something I could accomplish alone. I had to find a powerful team of people who would believe in me and my mission, a group that would huddle around a cause and could help to make it happen under my leadership. Situations have happened and I have a group of very skilled people willing to work to make this school happen.

Unfortunately for my ego and sense of accomplishment, this team is not really united under MY leadership or for MY cause. It’s more of an egalitarian, collaborative effort. It’s a collabradoodle and we’re all putting our own contributions into the art. With that I’ve had to compromise a lot of the finer details I imagined. It’s felt like the fair thing to do in depending on others. If I don’t allow (not that I’m actually allowing anything but more dealing with it) others autonomy then it’s really just me micromanaging people who I am supposed to be working WITH.

Not to say that this collaboration has not been beneficial but the angst of it all has churned some old frustrations I have with teamwork and being a dreamer. When I’m feeling really bratty I say to myself, “this is MY dream, MY goal, MY life and livelihood! everyone else is freeloading and co-opting MY vision! I shouldn’t have to entertain this conversation anymore as I’VE made up MY mind!” As you can see, there’s a lot of 1st person singular language in there. It’s been a pretty long and annoying year waiting for folks to catch-up to something I’ve already realized or decided. Also, having to go along with a preference that others want when I’m leaning in a different direction. I’ve had to let a lot of things go. I’m still working on letting those things go.

From the beginning this effort wasn’t about me and I struggle to embrace the way things have come about. What I originally imagined was this being “Anthony’s school” in people’s minds and over time I would slowly release my possessiveness of it as I built a community I could trust to take care of it. It’s possible that the way things have happened, collaborative ownership from the start, is better for the school. I don’t know. I just know I’m still working at it and I still have A LOT (most of it) to work on.

6 comments

  1. Rebecka says:

    Hi Anthony,

    There´s so much I can relate to in your text. Basically, a lot of it reminds me of the process I went through when I started up the first school. I had to learn how to talk in plural, how to delgate, how to trust others in the process of co-leadership. And honestly, we became a really fabulous team!

    When I started the second school, I had become so used to sharing everything, trusting that others would co-lead and that together we would make it happen, I let go of the offical leadership, very happy with “just” holding the project.

    From the beginning things went wrong and they never straightened out. People didn´t get my vision at all. They wanted a strong and firm leader who would tell everyone else what to do, and that was no longer me. And maybe it never was. I´m Swedish and by definition democratic. I listen, empower and delgate. And I always look for consensus.

    As from day one I was stripped off my leadership, declared completely incompetent without any valuable to offer.

    I thought to myself: I´ll show these idiots what I´m capable of, and slowly but surely, in silence, I worked my butt off to prove them wrong. And yes, they did get it. It took a year. But I never won them over. They never started to trust me.

    A tiny core of great fathers was my team, but I was constantly challenged by their wives who were actively sabotaging my work and critizizing anything from how I behaved to how I was running the school. Because even though I was never the director officially, I did hold coherence for the entire project and did a really good job in making it happen.

    This time I´m the only one holding coherence for my two projects: my kindergarten and my ALC. I have no problems with that when it comes to the kindergarten, it´s working fine and growing organically. But with Explora it´s very different. I crave a team. I don´t feel capable of pulling it off on my own. I want others to hold coherence with me. I badly need help when it comes to training my facilitators (of which I need more, but since I can´t yet pay more people it´s hard to pull in new ones). At this moment EVERYTHING is on my shoulders, from facilitation to pulling in more kids, finding investors etc. It´s too much for one single person, but at this moment it is what it is. There´s no one but me that can do this. No one with the same knowledge and passion. And it sucks big time.

    Bad teamwork is a nightmare. Real teamwork is dreamwork, and I want that dream to happen. Are there no ALFs out there that want to relocate? 😉

    And – thanks for sharing your thoughts. Much appreciate it!

    • AnthonyG. says:

      @becka Thanks for sharing Becka. My heart goes out to you as I know the intense stress you must be under. I imagine if I were at it alone so much would probably not get done. Even with a team, there’s a lot to do that doesn’t get done. I’m learning to prioritize and realize what is truly essential and what’s just garnish. If I were going alone I would’ve probably set up in a not totally legit way.

      • Rebecka says:

        Thanks Anthony, it means a lot to me knowing that you´re there thinking of me. I´ve been without internet for quite some time, and when finally my wi-fi was restablished, my computer crashed. I´m doing my best to take it easy and not push things. Frankly, I don´t have the energy for it, and if that means that Explora will develop slowlier than I had hoped, it´s alright. You might want to check out my latest post: http://becka.agilelearningcenters.org/2016/11/06/flow-vs-control/
        Big hug to you dear friend!

  2. NancyT says:

    Hey Anthony! I’m continually amazed at how open and honest your blogs are, and many times when I read them I can see my own thoughts swimming in your words. I too was the kid in school who dreaded group projects because I didn’t like my work being dependent on what another person would or wouldn’t do. If I was being judged/evaluated/graded, I wanted that to represent MY work, not someone else’s. For me, school was a training ground for motivating people to want to be better than their peers, to stand out, to be ranked #1. I didn’t learn how to collaborate, and my ego grew and grew around ideas of how great I was, because I was really good at getting good grades and being liked by teachers.

    Throughout the years at Mosaic, I have struggled with collaboration and teamwork because of this mentality – that this school is MY project and if my teammates aren’t doing their part well, it’s a poor reflection of me. When I relate to people like this, it doesn’t make a for a positive working environment or relationship. This is because you are always in this position or judging or evaluating their value in the project, based on my own standards of what high quality work is. It’s narcissistic behavior to believe that my ideas and standards of work are the only ones worth doing. But school did train me to believe that how I do things are usually best because when I did projects or classwork, I always got A+’s, so I see how these tendencies in myself developed and became a part of how I interact with people. So I have grace for myself, but I am adamant that I become a better listener, collaborator, and team member.

    Last year I learned a really powerful lesson. After running myself ragged for two years, feeling like I was doing so much work but the school wasn’t how I wanted it to be – mainly, I wanted to have a better working relationship with my co-facilitators, I kind of gave up. Not in a way of actual giving up, but I said to myself, “This is school is taking over my well-being, it’s becoming more about ME and I’m relating to the school’s success as an indicator of my own self-worth.” So I just stopped working so much. And honestly, the school has vastly improved. I think this is because I slowly learned how to just enjoy the kids, my day, and enjoy my co-workers. Knowing people and having a fun and light relationship with them makes it easier to collaborate and work on projects together. This is something school never taught me. And I’m happy I’m finally learning this lesson.

  3. Loren says:

    This resonates with me and my experiences in the startups and technology/open source world. I don’t have any answers! But as I go, I learn. (my only requirement: when learning ceases, I move on)

    I don’t see any reason to let go of the notion that you have a dream, and that you aren’t yet living it. That dream could be informed by your not-quite-yet-a-dream experiences, though! Sometimes we learn more about what we want by experiencing things we don’t want. (There’s some dating advice in that one.)

    As to that crystal-clear, highly detailed vision you have: that gets me in trouble constantly! Oh man, are my visions ever clear and detailed! And then I sit down to code the thing, to make it real. Oh man, are there a lot of questions about how this thing really works! It was so clear when I wasn’t actually working on the thing…

    I always try to remember that the journey IS the destination. If you do achieve your dream one day, I hope it will be replaced with a newer, more audacious dream, that requires even more awesome collaborators, more resources, etc. It grows and compounds and refines. It is unachievable by definition… and that’s the ideal!

    I love being one of your companions on this leg of your journey, Anthony.

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