The year 2020, a year I hesitate to memorialize in writing. A year lost. A year that should never have happened. One of the bright spots, however, has been my new adventure as an MBA for Executives student at the Yale School of Management. Almost unanimously, friends and family asked if I was going to defer due to COVID and the potential for hybrid or remote learning. I responded with a resounding “No.” I had been waiting for more than 10 years to take the plunge into an EMBA program and was determined to embrace this unique learning experience instead of eschewing it.
One of the best parts of the EMBA program at Yale SOM is the community. Oddly enough, however, I have only met in person one among my group of closest friends, my fellow learning team members: Jing, Meshach, Nathan, and Quinn. Jing is in the Boston area, Meshach in North Carolina, Nathan in California, and Quinn right across the river in NYC. Only Jing and I have met in person, at one of our class weekends in New Haven.
As a result of a recent Teams project, I have been contemplating what makes our learning team so unique and special. As a longtime member of the workforce, for me, it has always been about teams, teams, teams. We all think we know what makes a great team and, to be honest, managers are often inclined to overestimate team health as they mentally punch through all the boxes of everything they and the company are doing to keep up productivity, engagement, and morale. This is not intended as a knock, but rather a reality I have learned to acknowledge, and I tend to actively question my own perception and rely more on objective, simple evidence and the environment we create. Talk is cheap; action speaks volumes.
How is it, then, that I feel so connected to and energized and inspired by this group of people? Looking from the outside inward, we are very different people. We come from diverse backgrounds and locations, and are of different races, different ages, and different genders. The answer is simple and something that your mom probably taught you: it’s what’s on the inside that counts. (My apologies to anyone waiting for a groundbreaking revelation.)
The more difficult question is how to achieve a deeper connection. During one of our initial Teams classes with Professor Marissa King, Meshach and I were paired up and ended up sharing some personal information with each other. Step one is trust. We both made the choice to trust each other and have since only reinforced this trust and respect. The same goes for the other team members. Whether consciously or not, each one of us decided to take a chance on the team.
As we all know, business school is not exactly known for being a “touchy, feely” kind of place. We are all extremely competitive (yes, even the one team member who is not self-proclaimed as such). And arguably, an EMBA program is a zero-sum game since we are each graded relative to other members of our class. Taking a chance on the team means putting the greater good of the team and its individual members at least on par with your own interests. Without this mindset and alignment on core values, nothing else will follow and your “team” will fizzle out due to apathy, or self-destruct, and be a team in name only. This part of the journey is hard, but necessary. We expose ourselves to risk and potential breaches of trust, but it is a critical first step. Baby steps and then the trust will grow as our actions demonstrate our commitment and care. The other key aspects of team health are not surprising: trust, open and honest communications, active listening, supporting each other to stretch and to grow, being willing to have tough conversations, genuine self-reflection, and the ability to offer and accept feedback.
I will end where I started. Putting the team first is accurate, but is also a bit of an illusion. With the right mindset, you start with the foundation, and continue to build up, the fiber of team cohesion growing as each member commits and shares a bit more of themselves, offering their unique talents and perspectives. You put the team first, but ultimately where you arrive is the intangible force of true friendship and the exponential benefits it reaps upon you as an individual. The best teams in life are those that defy definition.
A special thank you to Jing, Meshach, Nathan, and Quinn. It is a privilege and honor to be part of Team Echo Trust, and I thank you for offering me your trust, support, and friendship.
This blog post was originally published on LinkedIn.