Language is important to creating shared understanding and the pace that we all work it’s no surprise that there will be times when conflict erupts within teams, impacting productivity and engagement. Navigating these messy perhaps turbulent waters can be challenging.
This is a story about a former team of mine. It was a high performing team, most of the time and on this day, we came together to talk how to increase our effectiveness. In coaching terms, it was a “shared agreement” meeting. The essence of the meeting was for the team to be really open about what they needed from me, and for me to be open about who I am, how I work, what I needed from them. Shared Agreements allow you to settle into a broader perspective of one another and what is needed to work constructively. Terms and conditions are open to readdressing by any party, at any time. It’s a great way to set the stage for a relationship. If this is a new concept for you, you can learn more in Podcast #004 on Shared Agreements.
But shared agreements is not the point of this podcast. I really introduce it as setting for the place for an inquiry that got me thinking:
When are you an individual and what is the effect to your individuality when you are in-service to a group?
During this session a member of the team pointed out that I interact differently with them during 1:1’s than I do when I work with the team. In particular, the feedback was that the “intimacy” and individual connection they felt during 1:1’s was missing when I lead the full team. And this dichotomy wasn’t working for some of the team. It created a sense of imbalance, uncertainty and fear. Ouch.
So first, great feedback. We all know (probably first-hand) what happens to team effectiveness, loyalty and productivity when tensions like this sit under the level of the surface. Now I needed to understand their feedback and do something to change. Part of the solution was mine, part of it was theirs and part of it was ours.
I spent several restless nights in self-examination of how I was showing up and what I needed to adjust to be both an authentic and effective leader for the team. I have a deep responsibility for the impact I have on others and I take this responsibility seriously. I followed up with each member of the team to better understand their needs, to share mine and to revisit our individual “shared agreements”.
I also wanted to better understand the root of this tension for the team. And I homed in on the larger group dynamic. I realized the team was a combination of strong individual contributors as well as those with deep experiences leading and working on teams.
Parts of the tension were a set of unspoken assumptions between when you are an individual and when you are working in service to a group. There were those who saw themselves only as individuals, loosely coupled to the team. Others (me included) were working from the assumptions that the team was tightly coupled.
For us, this raised a core issue about when you move and act as an independent individual and when interdependency requires you to consider the needs of the bigger group. The outcome was a follow-up meeting where we spent two days together creating explicit norms for how we will work together. We felt a deep responsibility for the impact we have on others. And we took that responsibility seriously.
As part of the Tribe committed to changing the world of work, I’m curious if others have noticed or experienced this type of tension.
For anyone leading a team or on a team that may not be working so well, we offer these questions:
- Does the team, collectively and as individuals have shared agreements and reliably practice them?
- Are you clear about what kind of team you are leading or are on?
- Are you clear about the purpose of the team and what you are all there to accomplish?
- Are roles and responsibilities clear?
- How is difference accepted and incorporated?
People make up teams and the needs of people grow and evolve. The health of your team is a place to remain vigilant and check in on regularly. Do not under-estimate the unspoken. It’s our role as leaders to provide time, space and safety for challenges to be shared and acted upon.
Thanks for joining us for this week’s “Five-minute Epiphanies How to Mine the Mess for Success: Tips, Snippets and Stories.” For more information check us out at www.stepupleadership.com. Join us next week when Kate will be talking about curiosity the antidote to judgement.