Teams are People, Not Resources

I work with people

It’s not uncommon to run across folks that still use the language of “resources” when talking about people or teams. I think this language emphasizes the wrong philosophy. Optimistically this is just an engrained speech pattern in people that have been working for a long time, but I think it’s something that can change (like most habits) if focused effort is put into it.

Resources is a “nice” term when you don’t have to care about feelings, people, life, problems, or other things that are inherent in working with people.

You don’t have to care about:

  • their mom having a broken leg and needs help for a couple of weeks and they don’t have enough PTO
  • their partner having a medical issue post delivery and having to look after a new baby and their spouse
  • their child being hospitalized for three weeks and not having a medical solution
  • child care when their a single parent and their kid is sick
  • their 13 year old dog suddenly having a cancer diagnosis and being told they don’t have more than a day or two

All of those things have happened to people I have worked with over the years. Those things happen to people, not resources. At the heart of it, nearly everyone I’ve worked with has been a decent human being, deserves to be trusted, and offers something unique to the team.

None of those situations describe resources.

I think it’s as much a habitual pattern that reflects on a culture more than any one person choosing to dehumanize people. Human Resources lays people off; Human Resources talks about policies that can get you fired. People Operations focuses on effective teams, how you recruit and retain, and how people work together.

It’s a choice – I choose to work with people.

I work with People

For the past 20 years, I’ve said I work with people instead of people working for me. I’ve been a lead, manager, director, etc. and I’ve worked for my fair share of bosses. I’ve worked for small R&D teams, large contracts, startups, and large Fortune 50 firms. At any size, I believe that putting the emphasis on “with” versus “for” promotes a better philosophy about the way I want to work. Imagine meeting the kid of a colleague and saying the following statements:

“Your dad works for me.“

This implies:

  • I’m his boss
  • I supervise him and tell him what to work on
  • I determine what’s important
  • He needs my permission to work on things.
  • He needs me to determine the problems he can work on.

“I work with your mom.“

  • We are a team
  • We both have work to do to solve ourproblem.
  • She doesn’t need my permission to identify ourproblems.
  • She doesn’t need my permission to determine a solution.

The “with” statements are at the heart of sustainable teams that are based on respect — that’s where I want to work.