Maybe you played sports in high school. You played on a team. Or even of you didn’t play on a team, you cheered for your team. On Friday nights you’d watch your team go up against another team, from another high school that was geographically close to your own. You differentiated your teams by color and mascot. One team would defeat the other. If your team won, you’d be happy. If your team lost, you’d be sad.
Maybe you went to a college that had its own teams, its own mascots, and its own rivalries with other teams. Even a liberal hippie school like the one I attended, The Evergreen State College, had a mascot, albeit one meant to inspire phallic jokes, the geoduck.
When you got out of college and got your first corporate job, you joined another sort of team. Maybe it was the development team, the marketing team, or the creative team. Whatever it was, it was a team and you engaged in team-building exercises. Your bosses complimented you by calling you a “team player.” When you had to do something unpleasant, it was said that you “took one for the team.”
Or maybe you were never that much into teams. Maybe in high school you chose not to play sports but rather start a band. A band of three other people, each with a specific responsibility. You’d gather in someone’s mildewy basement and stumble through your attempts at songs. As you each became a better musician, you also became, collectively, a better band. In part this happened because you learned to listen to one another more attentively, and to put the needs of the music above your personal needs.
Maybe there were other bands in your town, bands that were better and worse than yours. You’d go to shows and get inspired by the better ones, and feel slightly superior to the ones that weren’t as good as yours. But you recognized that in order for there to even be shows to go to, there needed to be enough bands in town to put on a show, and that the audience was composed of bands and the friends of bands. You played with other bands on the same bill and became friends with them. Sometimes there were bands that were navigating completely different sounds than yours, and listening to them was an education in what was possible with four people and their instruments.
When you use the word “team” you subconsciously accept a particularly insidious binary, that there are winners and losers. When you use the word “band,” you suppose that there can be winners and winners.
I am surrounded by talk of “teams.” It’s a hard term to shake, particularly in the tech industry. I’ve started to push against this term and use “bands” instead, and I’m finding that this simple word switch reorients the way I think about groups of people building companies and developing VR experiences.
Let’s say you were offered a position in a company in its marketing band. The marketing band is composed of ten players who each have specific roles and responsibilities, from managing relationships with ad agencies to keeping the company’s social media presence current. Because they’re a band, they have a common goal, which is to make something together that none of them are capable of making on their own. They’re not hung up of the subtext of competition and winning that comes along with the word “team.”
One of the dangers of the word “team” is that it blinds us with our own pep-rally propaganda. We start believing we’re better than we actually are, and this leads to mistakes and bad judgement. If you’re on a team, other teams are threats. But if you’re in a band, you can coexist with other bands.
Try using the word “band” when you would have otherwise used the word “team” and observe how it reorganizes the way you think. “I’ve got my band working on this issue.” “We’ll discuss that at the band meeting.” “I’m leading a band of developers at Google.”
And doesn’t “band” just plain sound cooler than “team”?