How to be a team player -- without burning out | Rob Cross - Transcripts

March 11, 2023

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How to be a team player -- without burning out | Rob Cross


Ted Audio Collective. You're listening to Ted Talks Daily. I'm your host, Elise Hugh. Between remote work, hybrid work, and what today's speaker calls collaborative work, our task lists can feel endless. So in this episode for Ted's The Way We Work series, leadership expert Rob Cross offers ways to break free from collaboration overload, so we can have more choices on how we spend our time. Support for Ted Talks Daily comes from Upwork. Upwork wants to let you in on a little secret. It's all made up, the nine to five work day, commuting back and forth, relocating talent to your corporate headquarters. Why are you still working that way when you could just make up something better? With Upwork, you can change the way you work and hire. Upwork allows you to tap trusted expert talent so that you can access the right skills at the right time and build your team. Visit to get hiring.

This is how we work now. Collaborative work is everything we do to come up with big new ideas and make plans to bring them to life with other people. The modern workplace is set up with so many ways to foster collaboration, meetings and brainstorming sessions, Zooms and Slack channels, email, instant messaging, so many tools to help us work closely together. And aspects of this are great, but we're doing more collaborative work than ever before and the problem is it's overloading us. From launching a new product to creating a vaccine, almost every endeavor we do at work requires working with others towards a common goal and collaboration is a great thing. It can help us work better and smarter. It can help us come up with ideas we never would have had on our own and it can make us happier than executing tasks alone. But collaborative work has risen 50% over the past decade. It's now taking up to 85% of most people's work weeks and those numbers from my research were pre-pandemic. Studies show that people are working five to eight hours more a week now with collaborations drifting earlier into the morning and later into the evening. When I came into this research, I was 100% convinced the enemy was external. It was emails, time zones and demanding clients to name just a few.

But after hundreds of interviews, I've discovered that even when given a choice not to participate, people are taking on more collaborative work than ever before. We're just too eager to jump into collaborations that burn up our time and that might actually run better without 20 people in the fray. About 50% of the collaboration overload problem starts with the beliefs we have about ourselves and what it means to be a good colleague and a productive person. These beliefs are hard to change, but if we examine them more closely, it can allow us to make stronger choices about what we do at work and who we do it with. There are many triggers that spark our desire to say yes so often, but today I wanna focus on the top three, the desire to help others, the need for accomplishment and fear. The first trigger is the desire to help and the desire to help others is a positive constructive thing and an important factor in success. It fulfills a deep need to be useful and bolster our identity as a good teammate. But it's also one of the most significant drivers of overload. The more you're helpful, the more people ask for your help. The problem is that you get so bogged down in helping that it prevents you from meeting your own goals. And over time, you become a bottleneck slowing others down. And this is all coming from a good place, the desire to help.

The second trigger is the need for accomplishment. Our drive to achieve is another admirable trait critical to success and productivity in the workplace. And it also feels good as little wins throughout the day and week give us a burst of satisfaction. The issue is that the cycle can get addictive. It leads you to solve more and more small problems for other people and avoid the bigger thornier ones critical to your own success. This is my trigger. If I see a five minute window, I will inevitably try to jam 60 minutes of these little fixes into it and completely ignore the three hours of coordination I need to do to get my team on board with what I'm up to. And then I end up overwhelmed six weeks out. Again, all from a good place of trying to get something positive done. The third trigger is fear. Fear is a major driver of overload today that takes several forms. The fear of missing out on better projects, better colleagues, better opportunities can become a persistent nagging problem that never lets you rest.

You feel a frantic need to be a part of things, worrying that it'll be your last opportunity. The fear of losing control is just as bad. It makes you reluctant to delegate or connect the people around you, sentencing you to a life of doing everything yourself. And the fear of what others will say is powerful too. Your knee-jerk response becomes to say yes early and often so everyone can see how responsive you are. Unfortunately, these fears drive unproductive choices and lead us into burnout today. Chances are you recognize yourself in one or more of these triggers. And since I gave you three triggers, how about three ways to deal with them? Number one, learn to get comfortable saying no. Don't let yourself fall into the belief that you don't have power in situations where your help is requested. Remember that your answer doesn't have to be a binary yes or no. If you get a request from a boss or a colleague, chances are they have no idea what obligations you're juggling.

Be clear about what projects or deadlines you have ahead. Ask them to help you prioritize. And if you just don't have the bandwidth, ask the person if you can show them how to do the task they're asking or discuss if there's a different way to accomplish their goals. At the end of the day, every yes means saying no to something else. Save your yeses for when they really matter to you. Number two, remember you can delegate. Opting out of a request can actually help others become more self-reliant. I've found that the most efficient collaborators get their sense of worth, not from always giving input and being involved, but from developing others and positioning them to grow too. Draw a line between tasks that really do require you and lower risk ones that you can delegate without concern. Look for moments when you can give partial direction, empower someone, and then step out of the way. And celebrate others' wins. Don't succumb to the temptation to point out how you would have done it differently.

Number three, be intentional in crafting your work life. High performers are strategic in knowing their goals and identifying what they can and should take on. They think about their priorities not only for the week ahead, but on a two to three month time horizon too. So when a collaboration surfaces, make sure you're not making an emotional decision based on a false belief. Ask yourself, how does it align with my goals? How much time and energy will it take each week? And what are the upsides of the outcome? Try to maximize those collaborations where you want to do the work. It contributes to your goals and you're the best person to do it. The crazy thing about collaboration overload is that it feels good right up until it doesn't. All it takes is one thing too many to start a downward spiral. Remember, you're the only one who knows all your goals and obligations

and that you often have more choice than you think. Upwork wants to let you in on a little secret. It's all made up. The nine to five work day and commuting back and forth to a massive, half empty office building, relocating talent to your corporate headquarters. Those ideas are some guys made up 100 years ago, which begs the question, why are you still working that way when you could just make up something better? With Upwork, you can change the way you work and hire. Upwork allows you to tap trusted expert talent so that you can access the right skills at the right time and build your team. When you have a world of talent at your fingertips, you can build entire teams of remote talent or pair experts with your in-house teams. You can work how you want with whom you want, when you want, right now. Visit to get hiring. This is how we work now. BRX.