9 surprising things parenting taught us about teamwork and leadership

9 surprising things parenting taught us about teamwork and leadership

We interviewed several parents at Asana to get their thoughts on this topic.

There’s nothing like becoming a parent to teach you some serious lessons about patience, empathy, trust, and collaboration — among other things. Whether or not you’re a parent (or ever plan to be), there are many things we can learn from children and our relationships with them.

From teamwork to prioritization, this advice can be applied to any work environment.

1. Accepting our differences

If there’s one thing many parents at Asana relayed about what parenting has taught them it’s that all of us are different, and while you can teach both children and teammates a variety of skills, you ultimately can’t change who they are. When thinking about how best to work with a diverse set of individuals, try some of these techniques:

  • Learn to take what you love about your teammates and build on that. Spend a lot of time explaining to each other what you celebrate in each other, while accepting that you don’t get to make everyone the same. Help each other identify areas of improvement, but try to build on each others’ strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses.
  • Understand different motivation styles. Whether you’re teammates or in a manager/report relationship, focus on individual motivation styles to figure out: How can we best work together? Which teammates’ skills are complementary?
  • Accept that no one needs to be good at everything. Everyone brings something different to the table at work: one person may be great at strategy, another is an excellent communicator — rather than focusing on trying to get everyone to excel at everything, leverage individual skills that, together, make up an excellent team.

2. Being in tune with our emotional selves

If a kid is hungry, no one is happy. And while most of us have learned how to manage our emotional state at work, our physical and mental well being impacts our productivity — we’re just better at lying about it as adults.

When your teammate seems disengaged, frustrated, or upset, consider that they may be dealing with something outside of work that is negatively impacting their ability to collaborate, communicate, or get things done. Being sensitive to each other’s states can not only lead to a better relationship, but can help that individual overcome challenges and produce their best work.

Check in with your teammates and ask them: How are you feeling? How are things? Are you worried about something? Stressed about a contractor?

Related reading: bringing your emotional self to work

3. Patience really is a virtue

When you have children, you quickly realize that you can’t just dictate the terms. There’s no rushing potty training or getting a child to sleep through the night — you must often accept the natural state of things and work within it. As a result, parents are some of the most patient teammates you’ll have.

There was a time when I would say, “Hey, we need to get this done so let’s just do it.” Now, it’s more about balance and understanding how people are approaching problems. I’m always thinking: How can we build on the strengths and deal with the weaknesses in order to make everyone on the team happy and more effective?

4. Focus on team vs. self

Many parents note that there’s an unlocking that happens when you have a child — you become more mindful of the impact you have on the lives of others and are more committed than ever to see your children grow and thrive. This feeling often transitions to your team.

While we’re all focused on growing ourselves, don’t forget that the growth of a teammate can be equally as important to the success of your team. Make time for coffee, help a younger team member learn new skills, and step up to be a mentor, if your company offers such opportunities.

5. Prioritization is key to survival

As a parent, one of the things you have to figure out right away is how you can get better at time management and prioritization. Here are a few ways to become a better prioritizer:

  • Start saying no. If a task or meeting is not well aligned with your objectives or goals, don’t be afraid to politely decline.
  • Leverage. Parenting glaringly exposes how little time you have to spend working on things that are just not that impactful or matter in the long-run. When you’re evaluating your workload, consider the things that are most meaningful or high leverage, and focus on those.
  • Implement the 80/20 rule. Related to the above, think about the 20% of work you don’t think is leveraged for you. Is there someone else on the team who can do this work? Trust your teammates to take on more responsibilities, and you’ll all benefit.
  • Set realistic deadlines and keep your team updated. If you anticipate that an aggressive deadline likely won’t get hit, get better at scoping out projects and keeping your team in the loop with progress. This might mean setting a more manageable timeframe for completing work, or scaling back a project that may be too ambitious for your team to tackle. Pushing back is a great skill for both individual contributors and managers.
  • Optimize your time. If you know that you’ll be in the office for eight hours vs. 12, schedule your day in a way that optimizes your productivity. Think about what’s critical, what work can be deferred or assigned to someone else, and what can simply be deleted. Then, let it go.

6. Let it go

No, we’re not talking about the movie whose theme song virtually every parent will know. It’s easy to stress about the details when you care about your work, but raising a child often puts things into perspective.

At the end of the day, we often overblow disagreements and small decisions we choose to make at work; their emotional weight simply isn’t worthwhile. So the next time you’re arguing over pixels, copy, or code — or losing sleep over missing a deadline — think about the long-term impact and figure out a way to work things out with your team, even if it means accepting defeat or compromising.

Living with imperfection

You can’t expect your children to understand everything that is happening; sometimes there are tantrums that require us to communicate on their level. While your teammates are hopefully not resorting to tantrums at work, meeting people at their level is a great lesson from parenting.

  • Not every problem has an immediate solution. We tend to operate on a ‘just fix it’ mentality at work but some problems can’t be fixed right away and often, can work themselves out over time. When a teammate comes to you with a challenge, spend time thinking about their point of view, make peace with it, and if it can’t be resolved right away, know that at a certain point, something will change.
  • Help them grow from where they are. We all have teammates that struggle with different things: some are challenged by public speaking, others have a hard time meeting deadlines: push yourself to work on their level and help them grow from where they are, not from where you are.

I appreciate my time at work a lot more now than I did before. It’s my adult time: to speak in big words and know I’ll be understood. I came back from leave with a renewed appreciation for the office environment.

Trusting your teammates

There’s nothing scarier than handing your child over to a caretaker for the first time; many of us feel the same anxiety when passing off big projects to others, when we’d rather just do them ourselves. Often, micromanaging teammates and not allowing others to rise up to the occasion of owning more work ends up hurting everyone in the process.

To help your teammates grow, trust them to take on big projects. In time, you’ll learn that others can handle making the big decisions, if you empower them.

7. Teamwork: it takes a village

The first few months with a newborn really drives home the importance of having a partner or community in that work, and it’s a theme that carries over to the workplace. There are always things you’ll have to do by yourself (whether it’s changing a diaper or completing a task) but knowing that you have at least one other person — a teammate or manager — that can help you brainstorm ideas and gut check whether a decision is a good one is truly invaluable.

8. Compassionate leadership

There are many approaches to effective management and leadership and there’s simply no one right way to lead, but being in tune with your teammates and reports can truly contribute to a better work environment for everyone.

  • Set clear expectations. If your teammates have a clear understanding of what’s expected, they’re more likely to do great work and effectively communicate concerns. Create a regular space (like a 1-1 meeting) for soliciting and giving feedback and make sure that expectations are always clear. Your goal should be to create a meeting of the minds to ensure everyone is on the same page and working toward the same goals.
  • Listen and empathize. You spend a lot of time searching for solutions; you’re trying to hear what they’re saying and how they’re approaching a problem. One of the best things you can do for a teammate and yourself is to truly understand the problem in order to find a matching solution.

Having kids has made me a lot more patient. Before, I had no understanding of why things slipped, why deadlines slipped. Once you have kids, you immediately realize that everyone has so much going on.

9. Setting an example and making deliberate choices

Leaving your child to go to work can feel like a big sacrifice for some parents and certainly drives home the importance of intentionality. Regardless of your position, reframe how you think about your work: Is the work you’re doing valuable? Does it satisfy you?

Parents are acutely aware of the example they’re setting for their children but even if you’re not a parent, it’s important to think about work as a place where your time matters. So make sure the work you are doing is fulfilling, today.

What has parenting taught you about teamwork and leadership?

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