These days, we talk a lot about “chosen families” — people who may not be blood or legal relatives but who nevertheless are a constant, strong, positive presence in our lives. We can use the same logic at work: We have the team we are assigned to, and then we have our “chosen team,” the people who may not be in our department or working on the same projects but who are vital to our success. You can identify those team members and cultivate mutually beneficial relationships in a process of co-elevation — meaning everyone boosts each other in attaining a shared goal.
These dynamic “teams” make up our on-the-job network and consist simply of whomever we need in order to do our jobs, from any division, region, level or company and regardless of title. These sprawling matrices could include dozens of people, on different floors, in separate buildings, or working remotely in different time zones and countries.
Before you become overwhelmed thinking of all your options, here’s how to form your chosen team and start working on your shared professional goals.
1. Ask the Killer Question
First, forget about the football team of people you think you need. Just pick one mission and one person for starters. If your mission happens to be aligned to something transformational, great — but just do it right somewhere before you do it right everywhere.
In fact, try to avoid picking the hairiest issue at work, the one keeping you up at night with a looming deadline and a faint chance of success. Dial it back; choose an achievable goal; and then ask yourself what the Killer Question: Which (fewest number of) people are the most critical to achieve your goal right now?
Don’t overthink this question. Hopefully, you now have a short list of people to recruit to your team.
2. Find Your Personal Pain Point
Perhaps you are still having trouble figuring out a realistic mission or which people are integral to that goal’s success. Now is the time to ask yourself another question: Whom or what am I avoiding? Instead of accepting obstacles, ask yourself whether improving a certain relationship could help you overcome them. The people we avoid the most are the ones we most need but feel the most helpless around.
If you pursue this trail, your teammate must benefit. You may have the big, personal, overarching goal, but you’ll have to square it with something you both can get onboard with. And, you must act like your teammate is really on your team, an equal ally and not an antagonist.
3. Rate Your Co-workers
Your chosen team will likely include some people you already work closely with, people you might otherwise hope to avoid and people with whom you rarely interact. Think about cultivating relationships with these new teammates equitably, rather than just equally, by putting in more time with certain co-workers and resting secure in relationships with others.
Use this relational quality scale to determine not only relationship priority (see tip No. 1 above) but relationship quality: Briefly, evaluate your desired teammates on a scale of -1 to 5. A 5 is someone you already share mutual active support with, and a -1 is someone with whom you have a beef that is hampering your work. In the middle, the 2s and 3s, are people whom you may not know well, whose work you’re aware (and vice versa), and for whom you can easily see how a shared mission would benefit them. These people are the ones to reach out to first. Their open and potential-filled relationships with you will be good examples as you try to develop the relationships at the bottom end of the spectrum.
4. Have Fun
It’s uncomfortable to step out of our prescribed department or chain of command. Make it easier on yourself by choosing someone you think you’ll have fun co-elevating with. Pay attention to the people in your staff or project meetings. Watch who speaks up with provocative insights or shares an intriguing background. See if you can’t chat with those people for a few minutes before or after a meeting and, eventually, invite them to an informal coffee break or lunch. These small, light connections will start building the bond and enlisting them to your “team.”
For many of us, creating a chosen team is more than a little uncomfortable. It requires shifting our mindsets away from the typical hierarchy, in which we only interact meaningfully with people inside our department or whom the boss tells us to work with. But even as a thought experiment, mentally creating a chosen team will radically alter how you approach your colleagues, opening your mind to exciting opportunities to collaborate and succeed.