By Anton Vanhoucke

balance needs and shoulds

Teamwork is about balancing needs and shoulds

This is the second article in my series about great teamwork. It is about work/life balance. Ever wondered how you can be part of a high-performing team without burning out? Read on!

Long-term and short-term team performance

There are a lot of things in life that I’d love to do, but don’t. Some examples: just staying in bed when I have to work, eating that whole bag of crisps, binge-watching a Netflix series, just staring out of the window,… These are short-term urges and they will get me in trouble in the long run.

These urges come from the proverbial belly. The belly points us in the direction of our needs. Luckily there’s also a proverbial head to keep the belly in check. The head steers us towards the shoulds.

In every team, people have stuff they should do for the team and the stuff they just need to do from time to time. It’s a fact of life. But how can you balance the two while keeping productivity up?

The rebelling belly

When you’re born, you’re all belly. As you grow up you gradually learn social behavior. You get better at planning and long-term goals. Your head kicks into action.

The belly does not go away, however — and that’s a good thing. The belly stays to remind the head of your bodily needs. It even keeps tabs and can intervene at inconvenient times if you ignore it for too long. The belly rebels against overexertion.

Why is all belly and head stuff so important for teamwork? In the teams I coach, people are using their heads most of the time. They are expected to! This means they tend to ignore their proverbial belly.

Ignoring the belly is a dangerous thing because having too many unmet needs can make people cranky, stressed, or depressed. None of that is good for teamwork. Conclusion? We humans need to balance the head and the belly.

The art of balancing head and belly

“Balance? That’s boring,” you might say: “In our team, it’s rock and roll! Stretching limits!” I have discovered however, that balance can be very dynamic and slippery. Take any YouTube video of an extreme sports athlete: their art is extreme dynamic balance!

The high art of extreme balance

So, for teamwork work/life balance means:

  • Creating some room for needs between all of the shoulds.
  • Get off your butt and start doing something when you’re ready.
  • Make time to unwind when you feel pressured.
  • Getting some proper alone time when you’ve been talking a lot.

Where’s the threshold? It depends. I try to be mindful of my focus: when my productivity drops I take a break. It’s not hard to notice a productivity drop, but it’s hard to act on it. At first, this felt counterintuitive. I used to think that the best remedy for lowered productivity was just working harder or drinking more coffee. Taking a break, however, rests the mind. The rest usually brings insight into why the productivity dropped in the first place.

Meditate for 15 minutes per day. If you don’t have 15 minutes, meditate for an hour.

Zen saying

Taking true breaks

There are fake breaks and true breaks. A fake break is just doing something else with your proverbial head: checking your email, checking social media or playing a computer game. This kind of activity doesn’t give the mind any break.

A true break is just doing nothing with the head. Activities that work well for me are:

  • Talking a walk
  • Chatting over a cup of coffee
  • Going to the toilet without a smartphone
  • Peeling an orange
  • Mindfully drinking coffee or tea

I try to avoid mindlessly drinking coffee at my desk. I try to make coffee into a true break. Coffee can be something social or something mindful.

Conclusion: maximize teamwork by balancing work-life

Productivity and rest, the individual and the team, the needs, and the shoulds: they are all deeply intertwined and need to be balanced continuously.

Does this mean that the team should work less? Should you set your ambitions lower? Not at all! You need to work better. Working your butt off is important to achieve great goals. However, you can only really work your butt off if you carefully tune the balance between belly and head.

About this series of articles

This article is part of a series of articles about teamwork. Together they form a summary of the book summary of ‘Effect’. It’s a book full of from a team of ice skating champions. In the previous article, I wrote about how the things you do are often contrary to the effect you desire.

My next article in this series will be about investigating the intent behind other people’s actions and how that helps to create better teams! Are their bellies or heads speaking? Subscribe here and don’t miss the next piece.

Leave a Reply