Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Why Teams Make Us Happy

In 2009, I lived two professional lives. The first was being a member of a close-knit, highly passionate team working together to organize the creative world. The other was rather lonely, as a writer aiming to finish my book.Over the course of that year, I experienced the extreme sides of the work spectrum. During the work week, I was part of a highly collaborative dream team. And every weekend I worked solo, writing alone and planning what would become Making Ideas Happen.

As I reflect, I found that the work I did in isolation was rewarding yet depressing. In my memory, every late night and weekend spent writing was rainy and overcast (if that’s any indication!). By contrast, my participation with the team at Behance was, and continues to be, among the greatest sources of joy in my life. Despite the financial hardships of bootstrapping our business – and the intensity of the work and the schedule – I recall the year as nothing but awesome.

What is it about teams and working alongside others that makes us happy?

My good friend Michael Schwalbe, now a psychology PhD student at Stanford, recently brought my attention to some relevant research by psychologist Jonathan Haidt. Haidt has written quite a bit about “hive psychology,” which explores how happiness is correlated with losing oneself in a greater whole, and how such needs may be rooted in evolutionary instincts. Two points that really resonated:

(1) “The most effective moral communities – from a well-being perspective – are those that offer occasional experiences in which self-consciousness is greatly reduced and one feels merged with or part of something greater than the self.”

(2) “The self can be an obstacle to happiness (given our inherent limitations as humans!), so people need to lose their selves occasionally by becoming part of an emergent social organism in order to reach the highest level of human flourishing.”

-From “Hive Psychology, Happiness & Public Policy” by J. Haidt, P. Seder & S. Kesebir

I’ve always made the case that great ideas seldom happen in isolation – and that the notion of the “lone creative genius” is a myth. No doubt, we need the accountability, refinement, and resources around us to make ideas happen. But perhaps the benefits from working with others are even more primal than this? Perhaps our innate quest for happiness requires us to literally be a part of something greater than ourselves?

While much creative work has traditionally been done in isolation, increasingly we are starting to assemble teams of like-minded people to work with – even if we are solo practioners. Our friend Swissmiss created an open studio, aptly named Studiomates, to bring designers – each with their own clients – together as a team of independent professionals. Aside from sharing a payroll and management structure, Studiomates looks and acts like a team. We have also watched Grind – and the co-working movement as a whole – gain much fanfare in cities around the world.

As we contemplate the future of creative work, should we reconsider our definition of a “freelancer” and a “team”? To maximize creative output – and our own happiness – should we seek to work with others as either independent professionals or a bonafide business partnership? And what is the role of professional networks like Behance in connecting us, and helping us, reach beyond our own resources?

Perhaps we reach a higher level of contentment and overall performance by working alongside others, if only from the camaraderie and sensation of being a part of something greater than ourselves?

As creative humans, we tend to always reach beyond our own limits. We want to keep learning and defy past accomplishments. In essence, we want to transcend ourselves. But we are most fulfilled when we push beyond what we can do alone. Whatever our goals, working with others may be the best path to happiness.

What Do You Think?

Do you feel more fulfilled working in teams or working solo?

More insights on: Collaboration, Office Dynamics

Scott Belsky

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Scott Belsky is Adobe's Vice President of Community and Co-Founder & Head of Behance, the leading online platform for creatives to showcase and discover creative work. Scott has been called one of the "100 Most Creative People in Business" by Fast Company, and is the author of the bestselling book, Making ideas Happen.
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