“Alone We Can Do So Little; Together We Can Do So Much!”

Stephen Kurtzahn
August 28, 2022

The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota is one of the premier medical facilities, not only in the United States, but in the entire world. Mayo also has facilities in Phoenix, Arizona and Jacksonville, Florida. One of the Mayo Clinic’s strengths is its team approach to medical care. Although it’s cliché, you’ll often hear it said among Mayo physicians, nurses and employees, “There is no ‘I’ in team.” If you ever visit a doctor at the Mayo Clinic or if you ever have surgery in a Mayo Hospital, there will always be a team of medical professionals focused on your health.

There are also other teams in life, not just involved with our medical care. Your marriage is a team. Your family is a team. Where you work is a team (whether you want to admit it or not). You may belong to a bowling team or a softball team or a basketball team.

The glue that holds all teams together so they can accomplish their goals is trust. But how can there be trust where there has never been any trust before? How can a wife trust a husband who has wandering eyes? How can a child trust a parent who never keeps a promise? How can an employee trust a boss or a co-worker who is always ready to “stab you in the back”? How can an athlete trust a talented teammate who always wants to hog the ball?

You can’t force others to be trustworthy and trusting. That’s something they must do themselves. It starts with their own character and integrity. But you can lead others to consider being trustworthy and trusting by your own example. You can be trustworthy yourself, and that greatly enhances the bond and effectiveness of your team as you do your work, whatever that work may be. When others witness your trustworthiness, many times it makes them want to be the same sort of person you are!

Think about someone on your team who’s polite to others when they’re all together in a group. But as soon as a person leaves the group conversation, that polite team member turns into a Mr. Hyde and starts bad-mouthing the person who just left. Is that someone you would consider trustworthy? Would you trust that person who speaks negatively about others outside of their presence? Probably not. That seemingly polite team member will probably stab you in the back, too, when you’re not around!

Then think about the team member who’s polite to others when they’re together in a group, but she also speaks well of others when those individuals leave the group. She never gossips or speaks poorly of others who are not present. You know that if this team member speaks well of others who are not there, she will also speak well of you when you’re not around. You’ll be much more trusting of such teammates because you know they won’t betray you. And when that’s the case, you can get so much more accomplished!

This is the kind of person you want to be. You want to be trusting and trustworthy when it comes to supporting the reputations and the character of others. That’s the very first thing you can do to strengthen the bond with others on your team—whether that team is your marriage, your family, or at your job.  

There are also other ways to strengthen the bond among your teammates and the effectiveness of your group.

Whenever there is a disagreement among teammates about how to approach a challenge or solve a problem, think win-win. In other words, how can you get what you want, and how can the person who disagrees with you get what they want? How can you both “win”? Part of thinking win-win is trust--we wrote about that earlier. It goes a long way when the person you’re working with knows they can trust you and that you have their best interests in mind.

It’s also important to be able to fully comprehend what the other people of your team are thinking. In other words, aim to understand. If someone doesn’t agree with you and feels that the task—whatever it may be—can be done better, put yourself in their shoes. Study for yourself their position up, down and sideways. Don’t listen to their opinions and concerns just to respond and share your opinion, but listen. Really listen. Listen to learn. Be able to express your teammate’s opposing viewpoint better than they can. That goes a long way toward reaching a mutual resolution that’s agreeable to all.  

Finally, work together for a common cause. Some would suggest that organizations, teams and groups—even families—should develop mission statements so everyone knows their purpose. Personally, I don’t think there always needs to be such formality, but it helps to understand what the common goal is. As husband and wife, do you want to be able to express your feelings—your joys as well as your concerns and sorrows—freely and openly, without fear of an argument? As a family, do you want your children to respect and love you, and to be able to come to you at any time with whatever is on their minds? Do you want your children to always know that you love them unconditionally? Where you work, do you want to trust that your coworker will do what she promised or that you don’t need to worry about him talking badly about you behind your back? Do you want everyone on your team, in your organization, in your work group, and in your family, pulling in the same direction towards your common goal? Or are you satisfied with everyone trying to fulfill their own personal agendas?    

“Alone We Can Do so Little; Together We Can Do so Much!” There’s a lot of truth to what Helen Keller said. If you don’t know who this remarkable woman was, you need to Google her name. A person you might be more familiar with, the basketball great Michael Jordan, once said the same thing in a different way: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” You may not have a world famous name in the history books, you may not play for a professional sports team, but you’re still involved with teams of one sort or another. Remember that there is no “I” in team, and that your team can be strengthened by you being trustworthy, by always thinking win-win, by aiming to understand, and by working together for a common cause.

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