While a focus on coming together and finding common ground is essential to the success of a team, it is only half the picture. If a team becomes completely homogeneous, where everyone thinks and acts the same, there can be no creativity and no adaptability. The drive to connect and belong must be balanced by the need to support the diversity and individuality that team members bring to the team. It is these different interests, perspectives and approaches represented by each team member that, when brought into the context of the collaboration, provide the variety and friction that is necessary for the creative process.
‘These two tendencies – the self-assertive and the integrative – are both essential aspects of all living systems. Neither of them is intrinsically good or bad. What is good, or healthy, is a dynamic balance; what is bad, or unhealthy, is imbalance – over-emphasis of one tendency and neglect of the other. If we now look at our Western industrial culture, we see that we have over-emphasised the self-assertive and neglected the integrative tendencies’ (Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life, 1997).
Of course, the team and team members operate within larger communities. For example, a team responsible for creating a day care programme must work with government legislation, current company culture, and so on.
To understand these relationships, it is useful to look at each ‘entity’ (team member, team, larger community) as operating at a different level. For ease of explanation, the team members could be at the bottom level, the team on the next level up, and the larger communities at a level above that.
To maintain a sustainable collaboration between all three levels, each level must support, or work within, the purpose, working principles and interests of the level above and below. This is particularly relevant in the relationship between team members and the team. Team members must act interdependently within the context of the team’s purpose and working principles. Equally, the team must take responsibility for supporting each member in following and expressing their personal interests and needs.
Evolutionary biologist Elisabet Sahtouris explains these different levels of interaction in the context of living systems and emphasises the balance and support that can be provided by this awareness.
‘Living systems are embedded within one another as holons in holarchy. They operate by the same principles at all levels – as cells, bodies, families, communities, ecosystems, nations, world economy. When every level is able to express and meet its self-interest, negotiations happen and cooperation evolves. Self-interest is only destructive when not contained by the self-interest of larger communities, or when larger communities fail to understand that their health depends on smaller communities embedded within them. (Global Family: The True Evolutionary Mandate of Globalisation. E Sahtouris)