There’s No “I” in Team
A successful collaborative process allows very little room for individuals to operate without consideration of the others on the team. Individuals and organizations involved in collaborations are dependent upon one another in multiple ways. In the world of theater, for example, the collaborative process is not an option; it is a necessity. Actors cannot work without the support and energy of one another, as well as that of the director, lighting team, dramaturge, etc. In the following activity, it is clear what happens when one member of the team fails to contribute. Lessons learned from this example may be easily applied to the wider world of collaborative work.
Read the dilemma and respond to the following questions.
Dilemma: A young actor named Jesse has been deeply involved with theater since the age of ten. His parents warmly welcomed his inclination—indeed, his father was an actor, then a director and then a producer. Jesse’s parents helped him pursue his passion for a theater career in every way they could. As a result of his father’s personal involvement in the business, his parents’ financial support, and the experience of growing up in theater-rich New York City, Jesse is an astute actor. He knows what it takes to become a successful professional.
Through his own experiences at selective summer theater programs, in theater workshops outside of school, and at a famed high school of music and performing arts, Jesse learned first-hand not only about methods and skills, but also about the value of collaboration—the importance of working together as a team. He singles out collaboration as one of the most intriguing and rewarding aspects of theater:
I love [theater] so much. Theater is the most collaborative art. You have a set designer, a costume designer, a lighting designer, a director; you have a composer and lyricist. … And then you have all of these actors, and you are all working towards a common goal, but you are all fitting your pieces together.
He explains further: “So if there’s any kind of tension or hostility in that, it’s really difficult. And that’s why I think you have to be nice in the business. And that’s something like they try to teach you as well. You have to be competitive, but you have to be kind.”
Jesse experiences enormous tension between competitiveness and collaboration. In high school, he and his fellow students spent three years working together—honing their skills, learning different philosophies and methods, and developing characters through their work on collaborative scenes. Not until senior year do they have the opportunity to audition for a show. This process, Jesse explains, is purposeful. At the end of their senior year, when the students are learning whether they have been admitted to colleges or conservatories and whether they will be entering theater professionally, LaGuardia hosts an annual Spring Drama Festival—three plays in repertoire, for which everyone auditions. The stakes are high in these auditions: these are the only productions a student has a chance to be in during his entire high school career, and professional agents come to the festival to scout actors. Jesse describes this intensity:
The irony is that senior year, all of a sudden you’re having to be really competitive. … Everybody auditions for that and goes through callback processes together, and all of a sudden it’s not, you know, the same as working in your studio acting class, where everybody has a scene and everybody is going to have equal time. And not everybody gets into [a show]. [The directors] actually choose the people they want to show to the industry. …That kind of changes the environment…. You are up against people, and really up against them. Like they could really get this part over you, that you thought you were, like, way better than freshman year.
Jesse views this process as preparation for the real world of theater; he knows that the issues of competition and collaboration with peers will pervade the professional sphere. In addition, he understands that once cast in a show, he needs to display cooperation, loyalty, and dedication to the collaborative effort. Jesse relates one particular situation in which a peer confronted him for his lack of effort. It is a confrontation that nearly caused the failure of the entire production.
In the Spring Drama Festival, Jesse was fortunate to be cast in two different shows—a striking affirmation of his talent. His first show was a draining experience. Although he loved the script and the director, the time he devoted to the production was exhausting. Because the show was so complicated technically, rehearsals took twelve hours every day. Jesse did not mind. He looked forward to going to rehearsals every day, and tells us that “it was one of the best experiences I ever had,” mostly due to the director. But the second show he was involved in was not of the same caliber. Jesse became involved in the second show right after finishing the first, and two months after the second had begun rehearsals. He says that the new play was “less successful” for him, in large part because of the director, “I had to work too hard to make the material work, because … I didn’t understand where she wanted it to go. And I didn’t understand what she was trying to accomplish. Her vision wasn’t clear, except to make it funny. … But that’s not enough.”
Jesse was tired, both physically and emotionally.
They were just about to start their hell time, which I had just finished. So I am going from like three, four weeks of hell time into three, four weeks of hell time. And I really didn’t want to be there. And so for the first week I just watched and I would say like really negative things about it.
Jesse did not want to participate in this second show for two reasons: first, sheer exhaustion; and second, fear that the show would not come together and might ultimately tarnish his reputation as an actor. A few weeks into rehearsal, one of the actors, who was a close friend, approached Jesse and said that the whole cast felt a “negative vibe” since he joined. She admitted, “We know that we have a lot to work on …. and we know that it’s not the best thing in the world, but the only thing we have going for us is our spirit. And we feel like since you’ve gotten here, there’s been a very tense atmosphere.” Jesse explains that this confrontation “really hit me.” He didn’t realize that his behavior was having such a negative impact on people, or that his lack of energy and his indifference were affecting the rest of the cast:
No one will ever have to tell me that again. Because I now see—because people and actors are very sensitive anyway, so even if you think …you’re hiding your feelings you are probably not, because everybody is ultrasensitive anyway…You have to be…very in tune to the environment, and what’s around you…. It was a very awakening experience because it made me think, ‘If this was professional and they were feeling that, I probably would have been fired already.’
Jesse realized how completely others were dependent upon his contributions.
Follow-Up Questions (to discuss together)
1. Think about this situation from the perspectives of: Jesse, another actor in the cast, the director. What are the goals of each of these parties?
2. What conflicts do you see between these goals?
3. Why do you think Jesse was able to respond to these comments in a positive way?
4. Have you ever been confronted by someone who said something that might have been “hard to hear,” but in the end was helpful to know? What are the most difficult elements of these situations? What support mechanisms were helpful, if any?
General Questions to Consider as Potential Collaborators or Active Collaborators
1. What measures should be taken at the start of collaboration to ensure that open and honest communication is possible?
2. How might issues of competition come into play with respect to the collaboration process? Are these issues on an individual level? An organizational level? Both?
 Adapted from Making Good: How Young People Cope with Moral Dilemmas at Work.