Teamwork isn’t easy. It really isn’t. What are the chances that when you pull together a random selection of people with all of their unique preferences, beliefs and values that they are going to seamlessly work together towards a common goal?
The truth is that, whilst it’s perfectly conceivable that they may all subscribe to that common goal, the likelihood of them each reaching for it in precisely the same way is pretty slim – and actually not really that desirable either.
The most adept teams capitalize on the difference that exists in their behavioural preferences, working together to achieve something that, in all likelihood, they would not have been able to envisage, let alone accomplish, if they had truly exhibited homogeneity.
But the vast majority of teams, don’t do this. In the main, a dominant behaviour emerges which can be determined by a number of factors, including the organisational culture, the function of the team or even the leader’s preferences.
Team members see certain behaviours rewarded and others, at best, sidelined, and, at worst, punished. So Darwinism takes root and people adapt to survive. The effect? The birth of a one-dimensional team which, ironically, actually stands less chance of thriving on a long-term basis.
Working with the deeper behavioural structure of teams across a variety of sectors, functions and environments, there are a number of common falsehoods that emerge again and again.
- Getting your idea, thought or plan to land is success
So, there is nothing wrong with this statement per se. That can be success. But, frequently, in teams this is so highly valued that it becomes dysfunctional. How very often people attend meetings pre-loaded with their suggestions, firing them into the room one after one; reloading when they don’t receive endorsement or, more commonly, when they are swept off the table by the salvo of others’ suggestions – with no clue as to how their idea landed in the first place. This pattern of behaviour is perfect for brainstorming but it simply won’t achieve the quality of conversation which is required to make the best possible decisions. Smart teams discover the other ways to engage which bring balance to a conversation and change this stuck pattern.
- Opposition is bad
A very common misconception. The word ‘opposition’ can, in itself, raise the hackles in certain cultures – and I’m talking countrywide cultures as much as organisational ones! Those that oppose can be seen as negative, troublesome souls who are blocking progress and stifling the irrepressible optimism of a team. Not so. If you have an ‘opposer’ in your midst, treasure them. They are seeing things that you are not able to see yourself. In most situations, they are offering correction which may just ensure your success. At the very least, explore their opposition in order to make that decision. Ignore it or belittle it at your peril! Teams without adequate opposition within them carry all sorts of untold risks.
- Communication is universal & understood in the same way by all
This couldn’t be further from the truth. David Kantor identified three languages that exist in face-to-face communication, each denoted by an entirely different focus. So even if they are all conveyed in English, they will impact differently depending on the dominant language of those receiving it. Each of these three languages is deployed, often without people realizing, as a failsafe mechanism to connect with others. Needless to say it’s a very ‘hit and miss’ situation. If your words happen to land in the lap of someone who speaks the same ‘language’ as you do, they’ll be heard loud and clear. If they don’t it could be, in the worst-case scenario, as ineffective as if you hadn’t said anything at all. If you are finding that what you say is rarely what is heard, or repeated back to you, there’s a good chance you’re operating in a different ‘communication domain’ to those around you.
- Clash marks a crisis
There is only one thing worse than teams that fight – and that’s teams that don’t. Most teams that don’t work on their behaviours are governed by a set of implied rules. There are things you just know not to say and not to do. No one told you these. You deciphered them yourself, just like everyone else did. We call this phase of team development ‘politeness’. It feels stable but that’s only because there’s a certain level of inauthenticity. Conversations that can’t happen in the room, take place outside. People aren’t truly ‘free’ to behave as they wish because there are powerful, unseen forces placing boundaries around what is acceptable. The first stage for teams working on their behaviour is that they move out of this phase and begin to speak more authentically. Whilst this takes them on a journey to a much more healthy working environment, the immediate result is clash. You simply can’t ask a group of people with wildly different identities, preferences and beliefs to speak honestly and expect to find consensus. Clash, whilst transient, is a vital part of the journey to healthy team working. So when it emerges, don’t assume that you’re hitting a crisis point. You are likely to be hitting a point of authenticity which smart teams explore and use to effect behavioural change on a much deeper level.
- Personal stories stays at home
So frequently we prime ourselves to arrive at work, smartly dressed, politely spoken and a clinical copy of our previous selves; wiped clean of stories or behaviours which we think may threaten our professional image. Big news. However prim and proper on the outside, every person you clap eyes on at work is a product of their earliest experiences and they are carrying that story with them each and every day. It explains their very worst behaviours and their very best. It illuminates what is vitally important to them and what they can simply shrug off as inconsequential. It has shaped their greatest fears – the fear of being seen as incompetent, the fear of failure, the fear of being unaccepted by others… and the list goes on. It drives why they behave the way they do… just as yours does. Your story is fundamentally a part of you and, no matter how hard you try to erase it, it doesn’t take very long to show itself. It certainly doesn’t stay at home. When people are behaving in inexplicable ways, the most revealing of all questions is simply: “where did you learn to behave that way?” There’ll be a story. Always.
What biases do you hold about how your organisation, team or leaders ‘expect’ you to behave or operate? To what extent is that serving you well and to what extent could it be limiting?