Charlotte and I were almost at the end of our conversation and I could see there was something she hadn’t yet told me. Either that or she had the worst case of “permanently furrowed brow” I had ever seen. Charlotte was the CEO of the new client I was just starting to work with, and this was our chance to get everything out on the table. And it only took the gentlest of prompting.
“Go ahead and say it, whatever it is, before it pops out of your forehead and smacks me on mine,” I said.
“I wish they would grow up. I wish they would care as much as I do. Ok, maybe not as much as I do, but I wish they would care, or act like it. I don’t want to play referee. I want to get back to building something. And I want their help,” said Charlotte.
And there it was. “They” were her team, and this was the impassioned complaint I have heard over, and over, and over again. I’ve heard it so often that when my former clients read this, most likely more than one will ping me to say, “I’m Charlotte, aren’t I?”
The truth is it is easy to find yourself in this particular “Charlotte’s web,” and there are many reasons. Today we look at the most basic.
Sometimes, People Just Don’t Like Each Other
We’ve all had that one “special” non-work relationship with someone who fit one of these categories – someone who we:
- Really didn’t know very well, or…
- REALLY didn’t like very well, or…
- REEEEAAAALLLLLYYY didn’t trust.
That person might be someone from church or another community group. Heaven forbid they might be a relative. Or my favorite: they might be a neighbor or a member of the HOA.
The great part about all of these people, even including most family members, is you can walk away from them. You don’t have to spend all day, every day with them. And your livelihood doesn’t depend on them.
The Price of Discord at Work
The problem with discord at work is it channels energy away from the work at hand. It changes our focus from positive intent toward our work, to negative things around us.
Let’s be careful to draw lines between what we are and are not talking about. Passionate environments where people can discuss topics openly and with great energy – and respect – are awesome. So are very calm, reserved discussions. And everything in between. The key here is respect. Another way to say it is that there is a sense that people have an understanding of each other, or the phrase that I’ll key in on is that they “know, appreciate, and respect” each other.
We’re talking about environments where there is obvious, on-going, unresolved discord.
It would be super fantastic if the way discord worked is that it were isolated and that it didn’t impact the rest of work, but that’s just not how it works. Think about the last time somebody made you upset (read: you allowed yourself to react to someone else with the reaction of “upset”). How long did you think about, “If only I had been quick enough to say this other thing instead.” Or how long did you dread your next meeting with that person? Unless you do something to intercept and change your reaction, this negative focus tends to build on itself, further robbing energy and focus.
Unfortunately, as Charlotte and those like her know, this negative focus doesn’t just impact the people involved. It has a ripple effect and drags down the energy and efficiency of those around them.
Don’t Make These Two Mistakes
Mistake #1: Ignoring the issues. This one is really tempting, especially when team or interpersonal issues pop up only to seemingly resolve themselves. However, if the issues are recurring, ignoring is a big mistake. Even certain “one-time” issues can be a tell-tale symptom of bigger issues in team and interpersonal dynamics.
Mistake #2: “Going deep” into every issue or “naval gazing” into the issues. Ironically, unless done carefully and with particular intent, focusing on issues in an attempt to solve them can have the exact same impact as the issues themselves: It focuses all energy on something negative. The most important aspect is the approach you take in solving the issue, or the “how.”
Fostering Knowing, Liking, and Trusting
In my Tired-to-Titan G.A.M.E. Plan program, we focus on growing stronger working relationships in the very first module. I have seen again and again the magic that happens when you first focus on building growth mindset and community between co-workers. While I refer to it as fostering “knowing, liking, and trusting,” honestly “liking” is a bit strong. We’re aiming for people to respect each other. Liking is a nice bonus.
Here are some of my best tips and some of the techniques we apply in Module 1: Grow, which is all about creating teams who think and act like owners:
- Redirect & Focus on The Goal(s)
Make no mistake – if people are engaging in especially damaging or potentially illegal behavior (e.g. harassment) you have to step in and stop it. Much of the time, though, it’s more productive to focus on and coach the behavior and interactions you want to see rather than trying to “coach away” the behavior you don’t. It sounds like a subtle shift but it can be revolutionary.
- Foster Interconnectedness
Making a comparison to war-time is a bit extreme, but here goes. Ever seen Band of Brothers? Watch it – great mini-series. What stands out is that the men weren’t just fighting the enemy, they were fighting for each other more than anything else. If you really pay attention – and if you ask them – you’ll discover that even more than their paychecks, your team is “in it” for each other. There are lots of ways to foster and grow interconnectedness.
One that I’ve found incredibly effective is to use a professional “Work Styles” assessment that helps colleagues better understand how to communicate with each other, how not to “press each others’ buttons,” and how to make the most of time in meetings. This one experience can easily take weeks off the process of “warming up” to one another. Regardless of what you do, it’s critical to rapidly foster a sense of “knowing” amongst your team.
- Help Build Roles & “Rules of the Road”
One consistent source of friction in teams is a clash between roles – the sense that “you’re trying to do my job,” or worse, “Hey, why aren’t you doing your job?” Unmet role expectations quickly torpedo any comradery you may have built on your team, so it’s important to sense this friction and help it resolve.
Don’t stand by on this one. Step in and help your team members navigate the process of clearing up role conflicts they identify. And when an uncovered area pops up, get it assigned quickly. We cover techniques for handling this, but the important part is to step in and help bring the process to closure.
- Build Rituals that Uniquely Glue the Team Together
The one certainty is change, so you can bet your team is going to change. It’s totally legitimate to let change happen organically.
Or, you can help it happen. I like to develop “rituals” that mark changes in the team. Changes can include changes to team membership, changes in the lives of members, or big accomplishments. Every time you mark a moment with a ritual, you claim another opportunity to strengthen the connections across your team.
Bringing it All Together
What “team” were we talking about, anyway? Doesn’t matter – whatever team(s) you’ve got. Your management team. Project or departmental teams. Your whole company. The goal is to help your team(s) know, like, and trust one another and watch the performance that results.
Check out the Infographic
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