I have been observing and thinking about the interaction between two of my team members and it was so obvious to me that there was a lack of understanding and trust that is jeopardising the effectiveness of us as a team, and the whole spirit that lives within the team. These two individuals are very different from one another, different cultures to start with, different background and different ways to work. They have not been working together for a long time and this partially explain why their interaction is anything but ideal.
I am sure you have faced this situation before and I have been working with both individually and together to address the pain point of a lack of trust. Here I am sharing how I have coached them and what has worked.
I will also say that because of my nature, I am a strong advocate of operating effectively as a team; we all need one another to get to greater things, we cannot do it all alone. So investing the time and effort to take a step back, detach yourself from the project and instead focus on the person you have in front and that we need/want to work with, has terrific benefits. If you want to get to a result that is greater than the sum of its parts, well it takes some good quality work.
“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”
I am speaking from my own experience. Let’s open a little window of confession here, shall we?
When I was in the early years of my career, I was a super-fast learner, eager to make a difference, eager to make an impact; I was unstoppable. And I felt I did not have time to wait for others to catch up with me. So I would mainly surround myself with people like me. And ecosystems made of very few species don’t tend to last very long. People were looking up at me, I was getting promoted regularly and was very happy with myself. I thought being independent was the right recipe to become successful, as leader and to progress. I thought that other successful people before me had done it all by themselves, against all odds.
I found myself often wonder why it is so hard to establish a seamless, honest and inspiring communication between people. And I realised that I often did not take the time and make the effort; instead, I took shortcuts and thought that things will eventually solve by themselves.
Avoiding conflict is convenient and we are not trained to face others’ feelings, and we get distressed by them.
It was only recently, with more maturity and strength of character under my belt, that I found myself wondering if my assumptions were correct and if I had not confused a stage within the development as an actual destination.
I read Steven Covey’s book “7 habits of highly effective people” only last year, in 2019, suggested to me by my coach. And I loved it. Here you can find the audiobook version, which I really enjoyed listening to over and over again. And a lot of the suggestions below as well as my current believes around the importance of Interdependence over Independence come, clearly, from his book.
What is Interdependence? It is about people being mutually dependent on one another. It goes beyond the individual and speaks to the dynamics of team, the organisation, and the society. The world we live in, by its nature, is all about the interplay between individuals in a community. You could even say that our ultimate survival is largely dependent on our ability to be interdependent: to solve problems and succeed at challenges much greater than we would be able to conquer alone.
How do we move from a behaving independently to establishing and nurturing healthy interdependent relationships?
I thought I would share here a few tips of what has worked for me in the past and with my current team.
Show empathy. Seek to really understand the other person. We don’t know what other people’s needs are until we really take the time to deeply understand that individual. Listen carefully with all the attention, without reading your autobiography in what the other person is saying. Let the person feel that you care about him/her as an individual.
I want to underline the difference between different emotions: sympathy, empathy and compassion.
Sympathy is the ability to cognitively understand a person’s point of view or experience, without the emotional overlay.
Empathy is the deep experience of another person’s thoughts and feelings, from his or her point of view, rather than from our own.
Compassion is the empathic understanding of a person’s feelings plus a desire to act on that person’s behalf.
I believe that having these three definitions in mind helps us focus on the right thing and allows a ring to bell if instead we are leaning towards the other emotions and consequent behaviours.
If you want to build a trusted relationship, I am advocating to exercise cognitive empathy; you can think of it as taking somebody else’s perspective; try hard to silence your emotions and thoughts, and instead focus on identifying and understanding what is going on in the other person’s mind, what are the emotions that he or she is expressing. Just listen actively and understand.
Being mutually dependent requires for us to be vulnerable enough to allow others to control or co-own some aspect of our success. We give up a piece of control over an outcome, for the sake of what’s possible through the combined effort.
Of course, this type of vulnerability has no chance of showing up without a foundation of trust. And trust is is built through establishing connections, finding commonalities, and showing a willingness to sacrifice for others.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
Brene Brown, in Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
ATTEND TO THE LITTLE THINGS
Attend to the little things. Remember that people are tender and sensitive; and small attentions often make all the difference.
In relationships, the little things are a big deal. We tend to notice more those small gestures than the big statements and celebrations. It is in the everyday that you build a connection.
I noticed with my team that having regular quick check-ins really makes a huge difference in their confidence about their work and our relationship. I have seen a significant difference when, for some reason the weekly update call has to be postponed and cancelled, on how this might cause even a small disconnect. So I have taken the habit of really investing that continuous and consistent time to listen, to coach, to give advise… depending on the circumstances.
In my days working for Philip Morris in particular, I really understood the importance of having distinctive time with each individual in my team for both, discussing projects and then discussing personal, development matters. I did not find the same discipline in others organisations and this has a times prevented me to implement this way of working since it was not known and recognised. I am though very confident abut the impact it has on both the individual as well as the relationship that it builds.
Attending to the little things, also means really remembering personal facts about somebody. I get mad at myself if I don’t recall the name of the boyfriend or young child because I really care and want to ask how people are outside the working environment and make sure they feel that I am listening. I know this is different for different people. Some professional really don’t want to get into personal matters with their employees and peers. That does not work for me and I have seen terrific results in the team spirit when you do get personal.
Tip # 3
Keep your commitment. The beauty of interdependent relationship is that we need one another to function better and achieve bigger results – but that brings with it a high responsibility and accountability on our own promises. When we open up and get to know each other better we are more prone to make promises and that promise needs to be a firm commitment; the result of something thought through and agreed together.
I said a ‘promise that is thought through before making it‘. Well, sometimes it does not go that way. Particular if you are a people pleaser.
In fact, the risk is that you have committed way too much and, actually, without really thinking it through – what are the result of the commitment I just made? who or what else do I need to consider before making this commitment? etc. It happened to me just recently: because me and my team all work remotely, we agree that we need to meet more regularly. And I really want to be with my team regularly. However, if I am with my team, it means I am travelling and staying away from my family for at least 2 days. One of the things that I have firmly decided for myself is that I want to be present for specific activities of my kids. This is my commitment towards my family. So when I agree to be in a different country, while what i really want is to be attending to my personal commitments, I am not being true to my needs and accept something that does not work for me.
So I hope you don’t do it like I do. But at least, if and when I realise that I cannot stick to my promise and that we have to creatively find another way, I have learned to take the time and explain the situation in detail so I can be released from my initial promise. We are all humans and accepting that things and plans can be revised when required is an important sign of maturity and flexibility.
I am learning over time how to set boundaries. Boundaries are fundamental for healthy relationships; they actually serve to protect and enhance that very relationship. So if you see that you cannot keep the commitments that you have agreed upon, it might be worth asking yourself if your boundaries are clear to you and you have clearly communicated them to your team members. Be clear on what you can and cannot do is so liberating. It makes you stronger as an individual as well as in your interdependent relationship with your team member(s).
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others. “
I love Brene’s mantras: she has bought a silver ring that she spins when an ask comes her way. Before answering with a yes or a no, she repeats to herself “Choose discomfort over resentment” . Isn’t it amazingly powerful? This mantra gives you the time and space to decide what is best for you and your well-being. I am definitely starting to do that myself!
So yes do make commitments towards your team members, yet they need to fit with your boundaries and your other conflicting priorities.
CLARIFY EXPECTATIONS IN THE AREA OF ROLES & GOALS
Clarify expectations with one another in the area of roles and goals. This is highly linked to the point we just covered around keeping your commitments. My experience shows that the best team as well as the hardest to manage are the ones with a variety of different characters, with their unique style and preference profile. The positive side of it is that each one of the team member has a distinct and a unique contribution to the team; the flip side is that the differences in approaches and believes might cause more conflicts and misunderstandings.
Take the time to go through reciprocal expectations and discuss any potential source of misunderstanding and conflict as early as possible; and repeat the exercise regularly. Communication is so much at the heart of good relationships and we really have to watch out here.
Very often many expectations are implicit, i.e. they are not discussed or agreed openly, and are sort of given for granted. You need to get the expectations out on the table, clear and crisp.
We often assume that expectations are clearly understood by others, that they are self-evident, but this is often not the case. Put real investment of time and effort upfront! Talk to each other. And do it again and again.
Some types of responsibilities are easier to manage: those are tasks that you can list into an excel sheet. It is still important to do that and be clear on who is doing the task and what is the role for each task of each individual. However, there are other types of tasks that are less likely to end up in that excel sheet.
With my team we use a profile tool that is called Spotlight. I see this an evolution of the Myers-Briggs personality preferences types; the color coding are similar and both help you better understand yourself and people around you.
In fact, the whole exercise is extremely power both individually as well as a team. What I find particularly interesting is that it sheds lights on your preference when you are under pressure, which very often is quite different from when you are not under pressure. When you do this exercise as a team, you identify what preference types you are strong in vs. what (potentially) you are totally missing. So as a team, you have to decide which roles individuals have to play both in normal circumstances as well as under pressure. In this way you prevent rushing into false conclusions or become paralysed or a combination of the two. The team exercise is the right base to set directions of travelling and ambitions of achieving better balance as a team.
Embrace Healthy Conflict: Being interdependent will inevitably lead to some amount of conflict. This is because we all have different perspectives and ideas about how things could be done or problems could be solved. As long as conflict revolves around tasks, concepts or processes, it’s a healthy part of group dynamics. It will ultimately produce better solutions, ones that incorporate more diversity of thought. However, if conflict becomes personal or territorial, that’s when it hurts effective interdependence, as it damages trust.
Remember that it takes a great deal of courage to face the differences and to clarify expectations; don’t act as if the differences did not exist. Understand them. Embrace them. Celebrate them.
ACT FROM A PLACE OF INTEGRITY
Be honest. Be open. Be kind.
“Integrity is the value we place on ourselves“
Stephen Covey, in “7 Habits of Effective People”
Some months ago, as I was working on my personal mission statement and purpose, I have found myself working on identifying the values I believe in and that drive my feelings and believes. It is an incredible exercise. It was the first time I sat with my coach and thought about and wrote down the traits and verbs that really resonate with me; that are authentic, that represent who I am and what I believe in.
Having worked for so many years with large corporations with Values hanging on some forgotten walls, I probably did not see the need to create my own ones. Some companies will actaully live their values and those values than have a meaning; but unfortunately, in too many cases, they tend to be some nice words that are not lived deeply by all employees.
When it comes to our own values, of course we all know somewhere in our hearts what ours values are; however, spelling them out and write them on a piece of paper where you can look at them, evaluate them, check if they are true is so powerful that I encourage everybody to take the time and do that for yourself. A great tip I read in Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why is to write the values, not as nouns, but as verbs to make them actionable:
“We remind ourselves of our values by writing them on the wall… as nouns. Integrity. Honesty. Innovation. Communication, for example. But nouns are not actionable. They are things. You can’t build systems or develop incentives around those things. It’s nearly impossible to hold people accountable to nouns… For values or guiding principles to be truly effective, they have to be verbs. It’s not innovation, it’s look at the problem from a different angle.”
Simon Sinek, Start With Why
Once you are clear on what your values are, you will have an easier time understanding why you react against certain things. For example, one of my values is about to live in harmony with nature. So if i am working on an innovation that i don’t believe serves this world from an environmental perspective, I understand why my body contracts, because it just does not feel right towards my own believes. When you act from a place of integrity you align your actions with your values.
Integrity is the foundation for building trust with somebody. You stand on your own ground, you are clear on your values and act based on them. Your team members will be grateful for you being honest and true to yourself.
Apologise sincerely if something goes wrong or if you believe that there is misunderstanding. I partially covered this on tip #3 when talking about explaining the situation if you cannot keep the commitment you made. Let’s go a bit deeper here though.
Do we have a unique understanding of what an apology is to start with?
I like to break it into two elements:
1. Acknowledge that your action have caused a hurt to someone
2. Showing remorse over that action
An apology allows for a dialogue to start: your willingness to admit that you hurt somebody with your action can give the other person the opportunity to communicate their feelings and express their needs. This helps building trust and clarify expectations. It gives both parties the opportunity to discuss what is acceptable and what isn’t.
We all need to learn to apologise. We all have the capability to hurt people through our behaviours and actions, whether these are intentional or not. And it is not always easy to apologise but it is the most effective way to restore trust and balance in a relationship, when something went wrong.
I noticed with myself that, when I take responsibility for my actions, I actually strengthen my self-confidence, self-respect and reputation. I also feel a sense of relief as I restore my own integrity in the eye of the person I apologise to.
So here you have it: my 6 tips to getting to a more engaged team where the sum is greater than its parts and relationship within the team are based on interdependency.
Don’t be impatient. It is tempting to ‘pull out the flower to see how the roots are coming’, but there is no quick fix! Building or repairing a relationship takes time. But it is extremely rewarding. Persist with honesty and continuity and, eventually, the interdependent relationships will be built.
I hope the above gives you inspiration to concretely take action for yourself.
Leave a comment below and let me know your tips to driving an exceptional working team!
Bye for now,
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