Good citizens build strong nations; good teams meet high goals. There’s a magic in working with others; it’s the power of synergy, the 1+1=3 formula, where strength is multiplied by people working together.
If you thrive when you’re working in a group toward a common goal, chances are you rank high for the character strength called “Citizenship, Teamwork, and Loyalty.” Chances are, too, that you’re an extrovert—someone who is energized by being with other people. But even introverts, who need plenty of time alone, often find deep satisfaction in working with others who share their goals, or in making a contribution to a larger cause.
That’s because working with others gets things done. As Helen Keller once said, ““Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
Ideas about what makes a good citizen or a good team fill thousands of books and websites. But in essence, both boil down to a willingness to give of your time and energy for the benefit of others. They’re about serving.
- the personally responsible citizen (who acts responsibly in his community, e.g. by donating blood);
- the participatory citizen (who is an active member of community organizations and/or improvement efforts);
- and the justice-oriented citizen (who critically assesses social, political, and economic structures to see beyond surface causes)
Theodore Roosevelt’s definition of a good citizen applies to good team members, too: “He shall be able and willing to pull his weight.” In other words, to exercise this strength, you need to claim your responsibility to give back to the larger social whole that supports us all.
The Benefits of Working with Others
The power of synergy expresses itself in a lot of wonderful ways. Whether you’re working with only one other person or with a group, it expands available possibilities by allowing us to:
- Acquire new viewpoints and strategies;
- Kindle creativity;
- Access a broadened range of strengths, talents and skills;
- Share resources and influence; and
- Avoid duplication of effort and expenditures;
- Benefit from support in meeting challenges;
- Realize the satisfaction of joint achievement.
In an article on learning from the U.S. Navy’s SEALS team, which they call “the best of the best in accomplishing their purpose through working as a team,” team building experts Bill and Elaine Brendler list the values that make the SEALS team great. Include these in your interactions with others and both your citizenship and your teamwork will have more meaning and success:
Purpose – Know your why. Knowing what you’re trying to achieve and why it matters gives you a clear sense of direction and keeps you motivated when things get confusing or difficult.
Trust – As the Brendlers point out, trust between people who are working together enables them to take more risks and to feel more supported in difficult situations. Leadership expert Patrick Lencioni counsels that the only way to achieve trust is to overcome our need for invulnerability. We need to realize that sometimes our feelings may get stepped on, and sometimes we will say things that others will take personally. “Trust” Lencioni says, “is knowing that when a team member does push you, they’re doing it because they care about the team.”
Respect – Maintaining respect for other people, even when their opinions and beliefs differ from your own, maintains the good will necessary for cooperative effort.
Care – Caring about your fellow citizens or team members contributes mightily to the morale. It gives people a sense of belonging and allows them to feel their worth as a member of something larger than themselves even when things go wrong. “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo,” Oprah Winfrey says, “but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”
Communication –People need to feel that they can express their ideas and opinions freely and openly. Clear and direct communication is an essential part of forwarding and clarifying ideas and strategies. “Great teams do not hold back with one another,” says Lencioni. “They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal.”
High Integrity – For synergy to yield its maximum benefits, authenticity is essential. Only when you’re expressing your truth are you making a real contribution. Whether your team is composed of a dozen people or only two, whether you’re citizenship efforts are personal or participatory, your efforts need to honestly come from your heart.
Follow these guidelines and the power of synergy will pay off with maximum energy, and you, personally, will revel in all it allows you to contribute and accomplish.
This article is one in a continuing series on positive psychology’s 24 character strengths. To find the others, go to our Article Index and scroll down to, “Strengths, Individual.”
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