Working as a Team

There is a high likelihood that over the course of your life (and that means while dealing with RA) you will be called upon to help out in a team like fashion, whether formal or informal.  While it does present significant challenges for RA sufferers, there are some strategies that can make it successful and satisfying.

For many of us in the work world, the idea of working as a team is often crucial to the success of our work.  That said, it becomes even more imperative that we are honest and up front about any limitations we have that could impact the functioning of the team.   I have encountered this dozens of times and have discovered that, despite not necessarily liking it, I am much better off if I share what I can do right from the get go.

Now obviously if the team project does not involve anything with physical aspects and is short term, I tend to not share my RA diagnosis and for purposes of this article those are NOT the ones I am referring to.  But many is the time that I have been part of a project, work or volunteer related, where there are some physical demands that I simply cannot meet.

Rather than dreading the inevitable outcome of having to say that I cannot do a particular task, I start out when tasks are being discussed and assigned by saying what I am able to contribute.  I tend to do it briefly and with a smile, so as to not induce any awkwardness in the rest of the team.  Telling them up front that anything physical (like carrying a case of copy paper to the printer) will not work for me, sets the tone and gets it out of the way.  I make it clear that aside from that, I am game for any tasks that utilize my talents and skills.

I have actually sought and gotten feedback on this strategy and 100% of the time I have been thanked for doing it this way.  No one wants to feel bad that they have asked someone to do something that is not possible for them!  It makes both of you feel uncomfortable at the very least and may well influence the whole chemistry of the team.

In more personal situations it has been a bit trickier for me.  I think, in part, because I want to contribute in all the ways I have in the past, and letting go of that has always been a challenge.  This recently happened to me and I had some moments of choking back tears when everyone was doing herculean physical work, and I was simply unable to do that.  It was one of those situations where THAT was the key work being done, so I had to figure out what I could do to still be a part of the team in whatever way I could.  I did figure it out!  I did tasks I could do (like going to the store and getting supplies), etc. and realized that doing things “behind the scenes” while not as glamorous, was equally as crucial to the success of the team.  Once I assimilated this, I was fine.

The real lesson here is that it is not so much the expectations that other’s apply to us but rather the ones we place on ourselves that make team projects difficult.  Once we fully realize and accept that our contributions are just as worthwhile, only then can we truly embrace the joys of teamwork!

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