Why is work always about tasks?

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I need you to pay attention to this part of this article:

On the day I visited the Spurs, they were going to look at tape because they had lost the day before. What Popovich put on the screen wasn’t tape from the game, it was a CNN documentary about the Civil Rights Voting Act of 1963. He created a discussion around that. He was genuinely curious about what the players thought. Would you have stood up during that time? What did your grandparents do? That sense of being connected and curious and engaged with not just the job but with the person is what really happens across these cultures. It’s not magic. It’s sending a clear, targeted signal that we are connected.

Let’s unpack.

What’s the article?

It’s about “unlocking the secret of successful work cultures.” Admittedly most articles with that title are complete bullshit.

Why this part?

So many reasons.

I was working at ESPN in 2008. Regardless of your specific political bent, it was a big year politically. We elected an African-American. That had never happened before. It was so hard, for a variety of reasons, to discuss this type of stuff in a work setting. It was always about the tasks and the deliverables.

You see the same stuff all the time with school shootings, big events elections, etc. People are spending 10–12 hours/day at work. It’s like “a second family” to many. But when we’re there, we’re just supposed to be heads down chasing KPIs. It can be pretty isolating, which you have to think plays into broader feelings of isolation and loneliness in society.

Imagine a scenario like the one above: you had a shitty day the day before, and you come in expecting a new to-do list and probably to be reamed out about yesterday. Instead, your boss calls the team together and you watch a comedy special and discuss it. Or you watch a documentary. Maybe you go eat Vietnamese food and discuss different cultures.

For an hour or two, it’s not about the work. It’s about the connection. All the stuff that always gets lip-serviced is now both present and real.

Wouldn’t that be cool?

Just a note on Popovich

By any measure, he’s one of the most successful coaches in NBA history. It’s not just his understanding of the game and the players he’s gotten. That’s a big part, sure. But it’s this stuff above too. That is the stuff that really makes a “team” into a TEAM. The good leaders understand that.

In fact, Phil Jackson — the coach some probably have ahead of Popovich — did the same stuff around team-building too.

Why is this so hard for managers?

Simple: they are evaluated off tasks being completed, often. So that’s what they want to see. Despite how much we deify and discuss innovation, most workplaces are heads-down target-hitting factories.

Could more managers do this?

Sure. We’re talking about 1–3 hours/month. It’s not a big deal at all. And the rewards are immense — but you cannot see them on a spreadsheet. That’s part of the issue.

There are other ways you can work on building teams, sure — see here, here, and here — but moments of connection, context, and community are so beautiful and so easy to achieve. Let’s do that more.

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