Your team isn't the only special one
I was watching Bar Rescue (please don’t tell anyone) and a bartender said exactly the same thing about his job as a programmer I was just talking to… turns out they had a surprising thing in common.
“Why are you still here?” This question was bellowed by the host of Bar Rescue. “I love my team, they’re special! We’re like a family.” So, the bartender knew the bar was failing. They knew they’d lose their job. They stuck around because of the people they worked with, though. Mainly, now, to their own career detriment.
“I don’t know if I should quit - my team rocks but the work sucks” is what I paraphrase a colleague to have told me a few months ago. She knew it was time to move on, but she loved her team. She didn’t say it so succinctly, but she was scared that she’d not find another group of people who were this awesome. Didn’t want to leave these people behind. She wasn’t in the position to save them, make it better, and she should leave. But she didn’t - and she suffered.
It was then I realized that all jobs seem to have this in common. Whether you’re a bartender or a programmer, if you’re in a team, you start to bond with that team. You start to forget what it was like before them, and you can’t really imagine - or don’t want to imagine - a scenario when you don’t get to see your favorite work person nearly daily. So you stick with a job that isn’t allowing you to grow. It’s holding you back. It is possibly toxic. Everyone sticks with it - because of the team.
Now let me step aside here: there are certain jobs that need to be done and will always suck. But most jobs I’ve seen that “suck” have been made that way by lack of leadership, no empathy, or apathy on the part of owners or bosses. That is a job you should absolutely leave.
I find it amazing that people stick with things that are toxic because of these teams. It’s almost like stockholm syndrome (I am not a psychologist… so don’t take this as exact truth) or something. Why do people stick in situations like this?
Ok, now for the tough love.
Your team is not the only special one. They’re not actually that special. Sure, there are some great shared experiences, some trusted friends, some talented members - but that exists EVERYWHERE. The fact that the bartender and my programmer friend experienced and said the very same thing proves this!
I’m not saying you shouldn’t be loyal to a team and work hard to do your part. But I am saying that when it becomes time to leave, when there is toxicity, then you can’t stick around because the team is so special. I bet you’ve experienced at least one other special team in your past. Or, I’m willing to bet you’ll run into a few more by the time you retire. In fact, I know there are tons of people all over the world having great team interactions (most people actually don’t suck!). Your team is beautiful, but it’s not overly special. Don’t get trapped.
This should be a warning for those who don’t focus leadership, empowerment and compensation as well. Too often, those things are papered over with team building exercises. Why increase your recurring expenses, when you can do a one-time team-building exercise and start to convince people that there’s no other way but this way?
Point is, teams are great. You can get a lot done. You can feel empowered, protected and nurtured. But sometimes, things need to change. A team should never be the reason that you put yourself in a worse position long term.