About a month ago, I took a huge risk I voluntarily traveled internationally to a third world country known best for earth shattering volcanic eruptions, large venomous snakes, and the MS-13 gang (largest growing gang unit in the US). There wasn't one specific reason for this adventure, although when you are jumped one Sunday coming out of church by the pastor who asks if you would be willing to go and before you are able to graciously pass on the opportunity, your wife butts in and says "yes, absolutely he will go", then do you actually need a reason?
Our Habitat For Humanity team, to my surprise was comprised not of bishops, priests, and monks, as I expected, but instead of normal, beer-drinking, fun-loving, tax-hating, card-playing folks like myself. Trust me, this turned the trip from "oh, geez, glad to be here" to "great, this will actually be fun". And fun it was!
We saw a lot of cool things, made some great friends, tackled one of the highest zip lines, attempted to play some soccer, danced our feet stiff, bought stuff we didn't need, dodged wild range roosters that charged, and ate spicy food that tasted good going down, but made you regret it the next day. However, not to be lost in all that fun was a single observation that really made me think.
The house I was assigned to was being constructed under the supervision of Mario and Manuel - Mario was the foreman and Manuel the laborer (a 50 year old man who did more work than our five team members combined). Neither of them spoke English and none of us spoke Spanish, so we all learned to use some key hand motions (believe it or not, they know the bird!). Our project was in the early stages of construction this means that physical labor was king of the day, so if you volunteer for one of these, attempt to choose a project near completion if you don't enjoy sweating or becoming a night-time subscriber to Icy Hot.
One of the first things I noticed was the attitude of Mario and Manuel. They approached work with a joyful spirit. They actually enjoyed being there, doing back-breaking labor for 9 hours a day. It's also important to note that masons, despite being a skilled trade, are paid more like a kid on a newspaper route than a skilled welder (difficult to swallow as a recruiter), so they weren't excited to be there for the money!
All week I tried to gain an understanding of why they had such a great attitude, and then on the ride back to the airport it hit me. The answer was in their approach to the job, (they weren't going to allow their situation to dictate their success) thus their attitude mimicked their approach. Mario and Manuel understood what needed to be done. Each accepted their role, they shared a common goal, but most importantly it was because they wanted to be there. How many times do we not want to be at work? I'm convinced they wanted to be there, because they enjoyed working together as a team.
How often do we not like work because of our teammates? Mario and Manuel taught me that the cohesion of a team has a direct affect on the success of the team. It was evident in the way they made us feel welcome to be a part of their team.
Back home, I see the opposite, where the focus is on individual achievement, and it concerns me. Why do we approach things more from an individual viewpoint than a team viewpoint? Possibility? Or perhaps our advantage with technology allows us to do more, so we feel more self-sufficient. Perhaps we earn more through reaching individual goals. Whatever the reason, I left El Salvador feeling reassured that the only correct approach to ultimate success is the team approach.