“What is your biggest concern or fear about working together?” I asked my mentor as we were having a conversation about the possibility of working together.
“Well, you have a tendency to find the immoveable constraints and then push on those. I’ve been at this long enough that I know my constraints and I need you to understand those constraints as contingent upon you coming to work here,” they said in return. They went on to outline what those specific constraints were.
It was some of the most honest and revelatory advice I had received in a long time.
As we wrapped up our call, I realized that exact problem — pushing against immoveable constraints was exactly what had led to me being fired from a job the year prior.
As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to become used to a reality where we have the power to change almost anything. All it takes is enough vision, commitment, and perseverance.
When you’re working on a solo project, this is often true. You can set your mind on a goal, change anything necessary to make that goal happen, and then reap the benefits. In the worst case, you fall short.
Working on teams is something else entirely. As I like to say: one person teams don’t build jet engines. That’s a metaphor for the fact that achieving a big vision often requires us to work with other people. Hence the importance of leadership and building high functioning teams.
Understanding this difference (or rather, not understanding) is what led to me being fired from a role I cared deeply about.
Caring deeply is an incredible asset. The problem was that I took this care to an extreme and that led to me feeling like there was a right way and a wrong way to do things… and we were doing things the wrong way in my mind.
And so I pushed and I pushed. Then I pushed even more. I didn’t work with the rest of the team to understand the immoveable constraints of our work. Instead, I banged my head against the things that, upon reflection, were indeed immoveable.
Imagine being on the other side of that — a teammate/employee of yours simply won’t shut up about all of the things you need to be doing differently even though some of those things are as they are for a reason. That reason is usually the vision of the founder(s) or key team members.
Here’s the lesson out of all of this:
If you want to do things your way and tackle all of the hardest problems no matter what they are, do your thing alone.
If you want to work with a team, or you want to dream so big that you need to be part of a team to achieve those dreams, then you have to embrace the idea that there will be immoveable constraints.
Find them, define them, agree to them, and then create all of the positive change you can within those boundaries.
On the flip side, if you’re the founder who has the ability to set the constraints with your team, do it intentionally. Identify them for yourself, share them, get agreement from the team, and then give them the autonomy to do great work.
The serenity prayer might be the most helpful encapsulation of this idea:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”