How to Move from Me to We


A recent youth soccer match gave me a surprising insight into organizational psychology.

The players fell into two categories: the shooters and the passers. When shooters got the ball, they drove toward the goal, regardless of the screams from the coach or wide-open players on the field. Passers’ first instinct, on the other hand, was to start by scanning the field looking to move the ball around the field.

Shooters got more individual credit as they high-fived the coach and hugged their parents. (One parent whispered to me that his kid’s grandparents promised a $5 prize if he scored.) And part of me was glad every time the shooters got the ball, because they showed the most confidence and drive.

But I also found my heart sinking at their short-sightedness.

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For the past two years, our work team’s most commonly used mantra has been “Me-to-We.” As it implies, we’re moving away from individualism to a vision of collaboration. As organizations reduce hierarchy and become more matrixed in how work gets done, collaboration has to be more than just an aspirational goal.

My last post highlighted the merits of being unselfish and others-oriented, but a question remains: what does collaboration look like in an organizational context? In other words, how do we make sure we’re passing the ball and still scoring goals?

Here are four ways any team can make collaboration a greater reality:

  1. See the entire field. The classic story to illustrate this point is that of the three bricklayers, each of whom were asked the same question: What are you working on? The first said, “I’m laying bricks.” The second replied, “I’m putting up a wall.” And the third, “I’m building a cathedral.”When we look at the entire field instead of just what’s in front of us, we’re better able to prioritize ultimate goals, notice what our teammates are running from and toward, and can spot opportunities for greater efficiency. Ask questions like, Why is this important? What’s our ultimate goal? How does this work fit into the greater context?
  2. Look for who has the best shot. Entrepreneur Richard Branson has grown companies like Virgin by continuously splitting organizations into smaller entities and giving people more responsibility, noting: “They are so buoyed by their promotion and passionate about their work that they make a success of the new job.”When we think it is up to us alone to get the job done, we fail to see others who might have a better angle to the goal. Passing them the ball isn’t just about passing along responsibility; it’s about passing along engagement.
  3. Recognize complementary talents. Verizon, which has remained a US leader in mobile, has made “co-opetition” part of its strategy. The company is collaborating with content and software providers to innovate around mobile distribution and branding.As my friend Paul Batz is fond of saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Ask more questions like these this week: Can we help each other? What are you good at that I’m not? What can I do for you?
  4. Give the trophy to your teammate. What would it look like to deflect all of the credit? Better yet, what would it feel like? It doesn’t cost us anything but our pride. This doesn’t mean we deny our contribution but rather put it in context of the “we” that makes “me” possible.

The choice is yours: you’ll either be a passer or shooter this week. What would be the impact of repeating the “me-to-we” mantra as you run around the field?

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