Compassionate Teamwork: Stop Senseless ‘Deaths’

In this past month, the worst terrorist attack and deadliest incident, since September 11, 2001 has happened for US law enforcement.

If we look at defining ‘death‘ as generally an ending of something (a life obviously being the primary example), in an organizational setting, ‘death’ might take the form of going out of business, losing customers, and people quitting, among other things.

As research and facts have proven for years, effective teamwork makes many lists for one of the top reasons that organizations succeed, customers return and employees stay, while ineffective teamwork is on the list for organizational failures, and poor employee metrics, like high turnover, absenteeism, and of course, low engagement.

As defined through Patrick Lencioni’s acclaimed books and training programs, a team is a number of people who meet and are collectively responsible for results. Whose team members are interdependent, share common goals, rewards and mutual accountability for achieving them.

When senseless ‘deaths’ are occurring, whether it be in an organization or a whole country, we need teamwork more than ever. People coming together to achieve the desired result is more important and placed above the individual ego, the individual belief, and the individual winning. It’s from this place, where compassionate teamwork can be engaged.

Sympathy and Empathy Are Not Enough

When individuals and teams encounter any kind of challenge, from everyday mistakes to senseless ‘deaths’, the compassionate culture is more likely to out perform the sympathetic and empathetic one. When defining a respectful culture for diversity, many attributes are used, including empathy and sympathy; compassion is most often missed. While sympathy, empathy, and compassion can all contribute to teamwork, compassion can also have the greater potential to positively address the challenges, moving the individuals and teams forward.

What’s the difference between sympathy, empathy, and compassion on a team?

  • Sympathy can be defined as feeling care and even sadness about another individual’s distress over their challenges. To exist, sympathy must come from one’s own perspective and judgment that the other individual’s distress is valid. From the outside, standing in on our own metaphorical shoes, we can sympathize even though we may not have ever been in the shoes of the other individual, and may not know what their feelings are like.
  • Empathy can be defined as sharing the feelings of another individual, by thinking from their experience and perspective. For empathy to exist, we must have some understanding of the distress that the individual has experienced, as a result of their challenges. We empathize as we look from the inside out, standing in their metaphorical shoes. In many cases, but not all, we have been in a similar challenge ourselves, and know what their feelings are like.
  • Compassion, derived from Latin origin meaning ‘to suffer together’,  is experiencing the feelings of others as if the feelings are our own and being moved to help. For true compassion to exist, action must happen, where we do something to reduce the distress that the individual has over their challenges. We have compassion as we stand side-by-side with the individual to face the challenges together. Compassion motivates us to support an individual through their challenges, whether we have or have not  been in a similar situation ourselves and whether we know or don’t know what their feelings are like.

Though sympathy and empathy can exist independently of each other and compassion, it is compassion that often exists in the presence of sympathy and empathy. While sympathy, empathy, and compassion are all agents of a respectful culture for diversity that can impact performance – compassion can produce greater results, as a more effective agent of both team building and change. Compassion is more than identifying with another individuals’ feelings at some level, like sympathy and empathy. Compassion is wanting to positively influence the feelings, by addressing the challenges. Compassion compels us to help and support, and it is this action, that can contribute to changing the situation. While we may appreciate one’s sympathy and empathy, on a team, a culture of compassion is more aligned with the true spirit of teamwork – people working together to achieve goals – and surmount challenges when needed.

When you reflect on your own teams and team members, or your own country – Where might you move yourself to help more?

Now, with whatever thought(s) you have in mind…what are you waiting for? Time to move! Let’s stop the senseless ‘deaths’.




Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not of The HR Gazette or its team members. 

Author: Randy Kennett

Randy is the Founder and Director of Learning and Client Services at Hone Consulting, where the priorities of their acclaimed training programs and coaching services are about teaching team members and leaders to be more effective team players to achieve greater teamwork. Randy is an international trainer and post-secondary business instructor, working with Fortune 500 Companies, and organizations of all sizes from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, bringing his 20+ years of career experience and credentials in human resources, business and adult education. He enjoys working with individuals of all positions, from entry level to CEOs, and volunteering with community leadership and youth development programs. To experience more of Randy’s work, sign-up for his free ebook and/or newsletter, and check out his complimentary four part training series from Team Player Fundamentals.

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