If You Want to Build a Team, Create a Team That Builds

Joining the OU this past September, I aimed during the first few months to meet as many OU professionals as possible. But during these remote working, social distancing times, this proved more complex than I had hoped. Nevertheless, in videoconference session after session, each individual professional impressed me with his or her accomplishments, skills and passion for the overall and program-specific missions. As Coach Phil Jackson put it, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” It was easy to note that the strength of our team is each individual member. But over time, it became clear that although somewhat new to the organization, the seifa (final clause) rang just as true.

It seems we have been in erev Pesach mode since the end of November for those of us learning Pesachim daf yomi—especially with our innovative All Daf app! Now, as we begin the Passover season in earnest, we are reminded that one may only eat of the korban Pesach as part of a team, chavurah. This fundamental part of the Passover evening was not meant to be eaten alone but in groups as an individual requirement tied to a communal ideal. Thus, lehavdil, Jackson’s second line: the strength of each member is only in the team.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, zt”l, whose recent loss we still feel, related a similar point in Parashas Vayakhel 5774:

“If you seek to create a community out of strongly individualistic people, you have to turn them into builders . . . . Team building, even after a disaster like the golden calf, is neither a mystery nor a miracle. It is done by setting the group a task, one that speaks to their passions and one no subsection of the group can achieve alone. It must be constructive. Every member of the group must be able to make a unique contribution and then feel that it has been valued. Each must be able to say, with pride: I helped make this. That is what Moses understood and did. He knew that if you want to build a team, create a team that builds.”

These words embody the second great lesson I learned early in my career at the OU: our true strength lies in what we can achieve when we work together and collaborate for the greater good.

Beginning a year ago, as the reality of the pandemic and its potential staying power sunk in, lay leadership met with program heads to develop a team that yielded Project Community 2020. After collaborating so intentionally in that vein, we have recently witnessed a number of examples of interdepartmental collaboration within the OU, “previously unheard of” as one program leader suggested:

  • Our HR team partnered with program-based professional development to launch management training through Nomadic Academy, coupled with an innovative small group curriculum, designed in-house by our own team, to prepare our managers to adapt and thrive in times of crisis.
  • Our recently developed Torah Programming team connects all programmatic departments, including the Women’s Initiative and Torah Initiatives, to offer Torah learning opportunities at all levels, for all communities. The team recently launched a holiday initiative and joint site for Chanukah resources.
  • Yachad, NCSY and OU-JLIC also launched a new siddur initiative to improve our connection to tefillah.

These and many more examples abound of internal collaborations for the sake of our sacred work together. Even more impressive has been the drive to come together at a time when we have been apart. Our individual members as well as the teams deserve kudos and our thanks.

In his 2020 bestseller, Humankind: A Hopeful History, Rutger Bregman reminds us to embrace our optimistic perspectives, especially when thinking about each other. He cites the following popular story of unknown origin:

An old man says to his grandson: “There’s a fight going on inside me. It’s a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil–angry, greedy, jealous, arrogant, and cowardly. The other is good–peaceful, loving, modest, generous, honest, and trustworthy. These two wolves are also fighting within you, and inside every other person too.” After a moment, the boy asks, “Which wolf will win?” The old man smiles. “The one you feed.”

More than being reminded to embrace our inner positivity for the future, the descriptors are other-person-focused, suggesting that beyond aspiring to an optimistic outlook, we benefit most when we act and think generously about each other, about our shared goals, our joint community. This is the esprit with which the OU will continue to thrive as we jointly face the future.

Al tikri banayich, ela bonayich.” We are not just team members who belong to the same family. We are builders. And together we make an inspirational team with an aspirational dream.

Rabbi Dr. Josh Joseph is Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer at the OU.

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This article was featured in the Spring 2021 issue of Jewish Action.
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