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Building Teams When People Work Alone

How could I get a group of people who rarely saw each other, barely knew each other and were competing against each other—to act like a team?

All day – by yourself? If the job means riding around in a car all day, it can be a lonely job. Those who have jobs in either sales or law enforcement are asked to spend a lot of time alone. Yet, these individuals are also asked to be part of a team.

In each of these industries, professionals are required to get out of their car and interact with customers. But, when they are not interacting with the customer they serve, they are often alone. As a sales leader for fifteen years, I saw this as one of the main challenges to building a cohesive team.

My team did not have weekly face-to-face team meetings for one reason. We were spread over multiple states. In fact, many of the people on my team only saw each other once every 3-4 months. In spite of this, they were expected to act like a team. My challenge was to create connection and trust between people who rarely spent time together. To add to the challenge, my teammates were ranked against each other in a monthly report from headquarters.

I asked myself, “How could I get a group of people who rarely saw each other, barely knew each other and were competing against each other to act like a team?”

To answer this question, I decided to ask them to do something different. I asked them to intentionally do something selfless for each other. The best definition of teamwork I have ever heard is: “Teamwork means selfless acts towards a common goal.” To make this actionable, I asked them to put aside their regular duties for one day in order to make somebody else on the team better.

We set up a training schedule which allowed team members to rotate from one territory to another in order to spend a day in the car with each of their teammates. After eight hours of riding side-by-side, barriers dropped. People got to know each other beyond work tasks and had the chance to understand who their teammate truly was.

It is hard to trust somebody you don’t know. The time our team mates spent together broke down the walls which had separated them and were preventing us from working selflessly towards a common goal. With just one change, we became a stronger team.

But I admit, before we saw that growth, it was hard for me end to get buy-in on the front end. It meant asking highly competitive and performance-driven people to step away from the tasks which could help them get ahead. Mind you, this was all for the sake of making the other person better and even sharing their best sales strategies with their counterpart.

I was fortunate my team trusted my lead, and the results and the feedback were encouraging from the start. Not only did they make each other better—they also found out how much they liked each other. They realized they were not alone in the challenges they faced, even though they were on the road alone. They saw how the job created common stressors, which made them feel community. They built trust that only comes from selflessly spending time together. Though the individuals may spend a lot of time alone while on the job, they will not feel alone when the team works together selflessly. If a leader creates those opportunities for trust to develop—their team will be more likely to embody - selfless acts towards a common goal.

Dig Deep Questions:

  • Rate the trust level on your team on a scale of 1-10?

  • When can you create opportunities for your people to make each other better?


It is important to us for you to have an opportunity to exercise Selflessness, not only individually, but together as a team. This is why we have created practice cards with scenarios. We invite you to discuss as a team what it means to exercise Selflessness via our Coaching Cards.

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