Bringing Your Full Self

I have several group projects wrapping up this quarter, and a recent New York Times Magazine article about building the perfect team got me thinking about my own experiences on those teams and teams in the past. Over my academic and work life, I’ve had some great team experiences and some not-so-great ones, and at times it’s been difficult to understand why some teams work and some do not.

This excerpt from the article really resonated with me:

No one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations. We must be able to talk about what is messy or sad, to have hard conversations with colleagues who are driving us crazy…. In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs.

Some of my all-time favorite team experiences were on the teams I assembled to run the 2014 and 2016 Data Bootcamps. In the lead-up to both trainings, I held some 50+ one-on-one meetings with trainers and coaches, understanding their interests, strengths and bandwidths. But these weren’t just transactional conversations, me trying to gauge what role made the most sense for a data practitioner’s background and time availability. Instead I focused on genuine relationship building, aiming to allow myself and the awesome progressive data practitioners I worked with to bring our full selves to Bootcamp.

By discussing everything from our professional sides (our job responsibilities and professional development goals) to our more fun personal sides (our love of dancing and karaoke) to our less fun personal sides (our family or relationship challenges), our team was built on a foundation of understanding that gave everyone the space to be honest about their lives and what they could and could not take on as well as what they wanted out of this team experience. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy our time working together, but celebrating our success was all the more fulfilling because we knew what we sacrificed and gained in being involved in this training.

Now that I’m seeking out a new team to join after graduation, this is my number one value that I am prioritizing. Google’s research was right: I’ve found that the best teams are those that allow members to be their full selves. And as one of the Googlers quoted in the article said:

I had separated things in my head into work life and life life…. The thing is, my work is my life. I spend the majority of my time working. Most of my friends I know through work. If I can’t be open and honest at work, then I’m not really living, am I?



Slice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.


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