Alone I am more vulnerable, I become weak and sometimes fall. But together we are strong.
When I was an investigator for child abuse and neglect, the days I got home at 9pm were more numerous than the ones that allowed me to leave at 5pm. It was a fact that I accepted. It was part of the job. Every day I dealt with the trauma of children and their parents. But I also battled strict time frames, belligerent bosses (at times) and an unappreciative public opinion of child welfare work. Yet I loved my job. I felt proud of my career. I went home every day exhausted, but accomplished; feeling like my work made a small difference in the world.
Conversely, when I was in management in a social work program, I still worked long hours, still had belligerent bosses (sometimes) and still felt unappreciated by the public. However, I made a higher salary and was not performing direct service work. So you would think it would be better, if not easier. Yet I went home every day exhausted. I was mentally and emotionally spent, feeling that nothing worthwhile had been accomplished. After several months, I was ready to give up and quit.
What was the difference?
As an investigator, I worked with peers who were proud of their expertise. We were visionaries sharing the same arduous path, believing that we were a part of something good. We appreciated that everyone’s job was difficult and without being asked, workers just knew when a team member struggled. Instead of judging that worker, we took the time to help. Help came in the way of phoning agencies for collateral interviews, meeting a parent in the lobby that came unannounced or even taking a child to a placement. Sometimes the help was simply a word of unsolicited encouragement. Each word or gesture forged a building block in the construction of the fortress that kept us strong. There were several de facto leaders in that program, line workers like us, that kept up the expectation that together we were stronger.
As the manager, In another agency I became part of a collapsed team. Events from past years had caused division and there were de facto leaders who would not let anyone forget. Every manager was out for himself. Each manager, fully capable and competent had created their own fortresses to keep others out. The trust issues memorialized regularly by some, created an expectation of betrayal. Even if you struggled, you dare not ask for help, fearing judgement and ridicule. Every sentence uttered by one manager was sure to be taken as a direct insult by another. It was a lonely existence that drained energy rather than sustained it. The normal high stress job became compounded by the artificial tensions and was, at times unbearable.
Which team is yours? Do your peers encourage and help You? Do they remind you of your strengths when you feel weak? Or do they slowly erode your strength until you feel you are crumbling?
If you are lucky enough to be on the first team, be thankful. Then ask yourself, what are you doing to shore it up? Even a fortress needs regular maintenance. Keep a watchful eye on your peers and be ready to step in with support if you see one faltering.
If your team resembles the second example, don’t despair. I know how difficult it is when the tide is flowing in one negative direction. But the tide can turn. Again, ask yourself what your role is on this team. Then ask yourself what your role could be. De facto leaders are not elected. They take it upon themselves to influence others. You can be a de facto leader on your team. It really is not complicated, but it does require courage to swim against the tide.
Start with one team member.
Offer support and follow through with your peers when you see them struggling. Be nonjudgemental and sincere. Be consistent and keep it up. Even if no one gives you support in return. It may take a while, but you will see your faithfulness and determination pay off. Eventually, another team member will follow. Then another. And the team will begin to heal and develop positive strength. Again, it will take time and you may get discouraged when results are not readily apparent. But trust that you are making a difference, don’t quit.
In my situation as management, it actually took over a year for the entire team to work in harmony. And two members actually left. But it happened. The old team was weak and vulnerable to every little setback that came our way. The team that emerged was stronger and more resilient for working together.
What are you doing for your team?