Since 1977, I have been sending out a newsletter called LEARNINGS. Here is how I began the first issue:
This newsletter—LEARNINGS—is my way of sharing with you what I am learning. Often I learn something with one client that would have been useful with another client the day before. In order to bridge that gap of time and also to bridge the gap of space that separates me from clients and other friends outside Cleveland, I will share my learnings with you regularly in this newsletter.
That statement feels amazingly accurate more than 35 years later. The only real change is that I moved from Cleveland to London and then on to the Crook of Devon in Scotland.
In the earlier newsletters, I shared one or two learnings each time. Then I read a wonderful book by Michael Phillips called The Seven Laws of Money. He describes the Taoist approach to creating Seven Laws about anything.
I like that approach except that instead of announcing Laws, I prefer to share Learnings. I’ve now discovered Seven Learnings about all sorts of things, including Journaling, Love, Retreat, and Diversity. The latest Learnings starts here; the rest are in the Learnings Archive.
LEARNING: I can work with a team even while I am working alone.
Several months ago while I was leading a training course with my friend and colleague Rani Chaudhry-Lawton, I was listening to Rani present some of her recent research on teamwork and I heard her say something very interesting. “A team does not have to work togetherto work effectively.”
A few weeks later I spent two days with my friend and colleague Nico Swaan visiting clients in the Netherlands. We visited three clients. In each case we discovered teams of individuals who were not working in the same place at the same time.
The first client described his organisation as a beehive with people working busily in their own little cells. But the canteen at lunch was full of people talking animatedly at long tables – the individuals were making connections.
The second client mentioned that he had not seen one of his colleagues in a month, but that they spoke with each other regularly by phone from the various parts of the world in which they were working.
At the third client’s office we found four people who work in separate areas but were gathering as an informal team to share slides and stories of our recent negotiation seminar.
In between these visits, Nico and I were discussing our own team. How do we continue to work as a team now that he is in the Netherlands and I am in England?
Actually it was Nico who triggered one of my learnings about all this. He described a man and woman who spend weekends and holidays together but maintain separate flats as being in a LAT relationship – living apart together.
That description also fits colleagues who are not always able to work together in the same place. They are in a WAT team – working apart together.
Working apart together requires some special skills. Some of my clients have developed these skills personally as well as professionally. I know two couples where the wife works in England and the husband works in the Netherlands. One of the husbands told me that because it is more difficult and requires more planning, they actually spend more time together now than when they lived together.
This underlines one clear learning that I have had over the years that I have lived and worked apart together. It is both more difficult and more rewarding.
Some people object to the idea of working apart together; they want to work together all the time. That is certainly possible and there is nothing wrong with that. But I would ask myself if any one on the team are feeling stifled or are missing opportunities for learning new things with different people.
Just as there are some people who prefer to work together, there are certain people who thrive on working apart together. One colleague has described his organisation as surviving for some years precisely because the five principals only gather all in one place two or three times a year.
What are the skills that make it possible to work apart together? They are the same skills required for normal teamwork; it’s just that I have to work harder at them. What keeps the team going is support, respect and commitment.
I support the other people on the team. That means I care about them, I challenge them, I enjoy being with them, and I love them.
I respect the other people on the team. That means I respect their skills, their experience, and their interest in working with other people in other places.
The other team members give me support and respect in return. Our mutual support and respect enable us to build a commitment to each other. And when we then commit ourselves to a common goal, we are an effective team.
LEARNINGS: Teams work effectively both by working together in the same place at the same time and by working separately in different places at different times. What really counts is support, respect, and commitment.