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Why Teams Make Us Happy

Do team collaborations bring us more joy than solo work? A look at the satisfaction that comes from losing ourselves in a greater cause.

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 Posts by Scott Belsky

Scott Belsky is the Chief Product Officer at Adobe and is the co-founder of 99U and Behance. He has been called one of the “100 Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company, and is the author of The Messy Middle and the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen.

Comments (29)
  • bassamtarazi

    I think it is that part of things where you can matter to the people around you and you are not so hell bent on figuring yourself out or putting so much pressure on the “I” part of your life and instead, focus on the “we”. After all, an existence isn’t an existence if it isn’t a shared existence.

    Garnering the respect and admiration of our peers is also a drive we have in life so being a part of something that someone else is a part of (even rooting for a team) is often how we identify ourselves. It’s a bit validating too.

    We are who we surround ourselves with. Together. Be Better.

    Great article, Scott!

  • Scott Belsky

    “We are who we surround ourselves with.” Great way of putting it, Bassam.

  • bassamtarazi

     Obliged, Scott.

  • Matthew

    I really enjoyed reading about your experience working solo on the weekends and with the Behance dream team during the week. Given the happiness you describe, it sounds like it doesn’t get any better than that.

    To answer your question, I would say I feel more fulfilled working with a team. Other people have to be involved somehow in order for me to have satisfaction. Even when I am working solo, my satisfaction is measured by my anticipation of someone else appreciating the work. Though, I think my favorite process is one in which the inspiration comes from a collaborative conversation, I depart to work solo and orchestrate the creative work single-mindedly, and bring it back to the group for review (hopefully praise ; )


    I’ve just had my last day with my technology team at school, while it might not be a proffesional team we have such a great time and our friendship allows us to be open with each other. We’ve been able share ideas and help each other and smash through obsticles together. I’m at my happiest working with my friends, as we can have a good laugh! As a team we’ve become stronger not through our education but through bouncing off each other. Can’t wait for University!

  • Scott Mackenzie

    Scott I’d love to hear your thoughts regarding balance. Did you feel you were more productive writing the book solo on the weekend after having a week with your team?

    I agree with your thoughts on teams, but also highly value checking-out from a team, doing focused work and then bringing fresh goods to the table.

  • samdop

    hey scott, enjoying your blog. i’m currently in isolation mode and also find it both rewarding and depressing. interestingly, collaboration mode, for me, also tends to be rewarding and depressing, so that i find myself switching from one mode to the other in a kind of endless cycle. of course, my creative process isn’t all that dismal–neither of these modes starts off as something depressing; the depression is something that gradually sets in over time. i think the key, not surprisingly, is balance: working alone during weekend and in collaboration with others during the week sounds wonderfully symmetrical and “right” to me. my problem is i’m too “either-or”: either i’m alone until i’m sick of it, or with others to the same end. i’m about two years into my self-imposed isolation and though the ideas come fast and furious, i also notice that these ideas fizzle out just as quickly. communion, for me, anyway, seems to be the thing that reinforces an idea and concretizes it into something real and relevant–and at the end of the day isn’t that why i wanted to be a writer, so i could connect with the world? balance, balance, balance.

  • Jeff Seevers

    There is some good science and excellent studies around this topic of group or individual tendencies and our nature regarding extroversion and introversion. I’m in the midst of a great book called “Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking”, and depending on the wiring of your brain, you get emotional stimuli based on either working alone, or working within a group setting. Fascinating to say the least.

  • Spencer Yarnell

    Great blog post!
    I find this a lot when my team and I at work fixate on a goal. When you become fixated on a goal you only want to talk about that goal you want to be immersed in that goal, and so does everyone else. Naturally then you get great joy from being together because you can all relate to your fixation. I’ve always thought of it less as losing oneself to the whole and more of giving one’s conscious mind to a goal. This is a hard feeling to relate but there’s my two cents.

  • Susan Emmer

    Hi Scott,
    Very timely article. I’ve worked as part of a team that created a boutique marketing firm, and then for the last 1 1/2 years as a solo consultant. I definitely miss the team dynamics, and realize that I am much happier collaborating on a project than going it alone. Also, brainstorming with yourself is overrated! I’m now looking for a partner, and am even exploring becoming an employee again.

  • Scott Belsky

    Thanks Susan; and I agree – its the unexpected exchanges and collisions with others that work with that are most rewarding.

  • Scott Belsky

    thanks Jeff; will have to check out that book

  • Scott Belsky

    That balance is something I identify with – both extremes are helpful for me personally. Alone time certainly prompts insights as well (despite being difficult/lonely at times).

  • Scott Belsky

    Scott – YES, I definitely benefited from the back-and-forth immersion in team work and then isolation. In fact, while writing the book, my experiences with my team made some major contributions. Perhaps this is something that would benefit full-time authors!

  • Reagan Pugh

    A well-timed blog post. When I left the classroom to help develop a non-profit, I named autonomy as THE addition I needed to my workday in order to be more productive and more creative. However, it seems I confused autonomy over my work with solitude and isolation. Now, almost a year in, I’m happy to work each day from a coffee shop, but find myself wondering where my new community will be. Suddenly, the imagined beauty of a distraction-free workspace fades away and I desire to be a part of something imperfect, meaningful and shared with others. Good word.

  • Josh Bobbitt

    Absolutely as a team. My team doesn’t often end up working in the same office space, but we’ll often have days where we end up working at the same coffee shop. Those days are ALWAYS more rewarding, even if they’re less “productive,” and I’ve pretty much always considered myself an introvert.

  • Jason Koontz

    Scott- Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. This is something that I personally struggle with at times. I like the question you raised about the definition of a “freelancer” and “team”. I am a freelancer and enjoy the work I create, but often feel as though I want to be part of something bigger than myself. What does a co-creative environment look like? Co-working spaces are on the right track, but are only successful if there is a real sense of a community there. I don’t think you make real connections unless you are sharing and working on the same set of projects. The idea of a small tightly knit team working towards similar goals is almost ideal. I’m sure that’s the benefits you feel with your team at Behance. How does one go about creating this sort of circle? What does this look like in terms of delegation of work, pay structure, etc? Can people remain as individual “freelancers” or must they form together as a company? All these seemingly small technicalities are actually huge barriers a “team” must figure out in order to get themselves from a work from your desk at home environment to a truly collaborative office space they share with others.

    It’s interesting how some people fight to get away from the office, while others struggle without having such a place to work. That ideal place no doubt requires balance of many different factors and I think we will continue to see more and more examples of what this can look like in the future of creative work.

  • Carissa

    It’s interesting to read that you felt more productive working alone after you had spent the week working with your team. Perhaps that is something that could be tested in the workplace. As an employee at a productivity training company, I’ve never thought about the effects a team dynamic might have on an individual’s work, especially if they enjoy the team work.

    Great article! Loved reading it!

  • Melanie

    Creative teamwork is a topic that I find very interesting. There are challenges to working with other designers, but the potential benefits are amazing not only in the quality of the produced work, but also in terms of personal growth and overall enjoyment of one’s job. It’s very true that we have too many freelancers working in isolation in our profession. There was an article I read recently that talked about creating successful collaborations. Found it quite useful:

  • Edna Cabcabin Moran

    Nice article! I like how it tackles some of our questions and concerns around productivity and creativity. I also think it’s important to note the importance of timing. There is a time to be alone, typically in the first draft stage, where we allow an idea to germinate unencumbered and uninfluenced by outside opinions. And then there is a time to share with others for feedback and/or support in developing the idea and making it ready for public consumption. As an author/illustrator, I’ve benefited from various critique and support partnerships and groups–usually along the lines of genre and markets. IMHO, it’s all about designing one’s own environmental alchemy for one’s creative spirit to thrive.

  • Paul

    How often do we confuse social camaraderie and unity with doing good work? Teams of teachers may love working with each other, marinade in their own confirmation biases, yet not be doing a good job by the kids. What if the team thinks it is doing good but it isn’t?

  • Shannon DeFazio

    When working in a group, i feel like idea’s can be bounced between everyone and that helps get peoples brains flowing. It helps creativity. When working with other people also, it keeps you awake and it’s less boring. When working by myself sometimes I can get lost in my own work. When I am working with others I am constantly talking and getting new ideas and thoughts put into my head. This doesn’t always work it really depends on the project that is being worked on. At my job Media Wizardz ( ) we always work together as a team, we use each others thoughts and ideas to better our own ideas.

  • Stefan Steurs

    How much does that differ from working all by yourself. No one to unconfirm your bias. What if you think you are doing well but you are not. I think teams are fun. Teams can create the support when things get rough. Making a team work is not that easy but when it does, there is nothing better.

  • robro

    Definitely more fulfilled working in a team. My previous job was a highly collaborative project involving not only intense work within our team 10 or so people, but with many other teams as well. Since my departure, I’ve had very few opportunities to work in a team, and those were small and isolated. I also find that exploring my own ideas is hampered by the lack of a social environment for discussing them.

  • jacinto ela

    I agree with most of the things you said.People need peolpe to fuel themselves and after we need our time to select what inspires us o what things completes our thoughts.

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