No Team Is an Island, Entire of Itself

No Team Is an Island, Entire of Itself

The secret to building a highly-performant team is team cohesion. There is simply no better predictor of team success. And it’s not really a secret — Google published their findings on this topic right here.

At ActiveCampaign, I’m part of the Mobile team, and this year, we went hunting for team cohesion. We set our sights on shipping iOS and Android apps every two weeks. We rallied together for beers on Friday afternoons. We made a point of celebrating our team’s big wins. We started calling ourselves “Mobile Island.” And we fell in love with food jokes. For example, this is Chip the Burrito Bowl:
Chip the Burrito Bowl
Also, in September, one of our Android developers organized an after-work event that would live in infamy. Her invitation went thus:

“Prepare your senses to be indulged in one of the most world-class flavor profiles of this century and an event that will have you horizontal for days — The Fast Food Crawl.”

For two hours, we devoured value menu items at Arby’s, McDonald’s, Taco Bell Cantina, and Burger King. Well before we reached BK, it was clear that our gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems had paid a great price.

In return, we knew we had obtained our prize. We had team cohesion!
Mobile Team on The Fast Food Crawl
And yet, something was wrong. No sooner had we recovered from The Crawl, than we learned that we had gained a reputation for exclusivity and even indifference to the other engineering teams at ActiveCampaign. This news was disturbing. Could it be that in our quest to cohere with each other, we had detached from the rest of the department?

In the following months, we made some changes. For starters, we worked to be more intentional about getting to know others across the company. Our manager encouraged us to tackle side projects with other developers, designers, and product managers. We signed up for more internal training alongside our colleagues.
Flight Club
We also dropped the name “Mobile Island.” After all, to be an island is to part from the main, and contradicts one of ActiveCampaign’s values, Cultivate Inclusion.

These are baby steps, but it has made a difference. We’re seeing that team cohesion can be bigger than just one team. This idea reminds me of a diagram my college philosophy professor once showed me:
This diagram illustrates the Chinese concept of ren, which more or less means fulfillment through helping others. Or, as Confucius put it, “…the man of perfect virtue, wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others.” In the Confucian model, the individual exists at the center of a series of concentric circles, surrounded by family, community, state, and beyond.

Team cohesion, extended outward, can cultivate good for the whole world.

This year, Team Mobile saw how a group can unintentionally cohere with themselves to the exclusion of others. We’ve also seen how we can properly celebrate what’s special to us, like the McRib. In 2019, we’ll aim to share great team practices with the larger ActiveCampaign team. Beyond that, we’ll set our sights on our community and the world.

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