Midwife - “When did this happen?!”
Amy, my wife - “I don't know!”
Me, Al - “What's going on?! Oh my God!”
Midwife - “Okay Amy, the baby has turned, we are going into the OR for an emergency C-Section. The nurse will prepare both of you while I call the doctors and prepare for the procedure.”
Amy - “Al, I am scared.” She squeezed my hand as our baby Ian was sideways in her stomach. We could see his head on one side and his feet on the other. It was a complete breech.
12 minutes later at the OR.
Doctor #1 - “The father can't come in. You gave us the wrong code, we should have been starting minutes ago.”
Midwife - “I'm sorry, but the plan is to have the father with us.”
Doctor #1 and Midwife continue to argue with an escalating tone while Amy and I wait, confused and extremely scared. We couldn't believe that medical professionals would be arguing during a moment like this!
Surgeon - (screams to Doctor #1) “You missed the first meeting! The father is coming in and that's it!”
So, what does a shouting match in the OR minutes before an emergency C-Section for my second child have to do with team building? (Tweet This)
I am happy to write that everything went perfectly after the surgeon took control of the situation. Our son Ian was born without any issues or complications. However, did my wife and I really need to be exposed to that situation during such a stressful time?
Was there a need to introduce this type of stress to a team that was about to perform surgery under critical conditions?
During the pregnancy, we had developed a close relationship with the midwife and the surgeon. While the surgeon had many years of experience and his office was decorated with multiple medical degrees and certifications, he always treated the midwife as an equal. He respected her and valued her input immensely.
The impression we got from Doctor #1 was the complete opposite as the surgeon. He was determined to correct the midwife with an attitude of superiority. Apparently, it was more important for him to correct the midwife and make his point than it was to serve the needs of his patients.
Are you starting to see why team building has everything to do with this story?
ANY type of team building that would have prevented this situation from happening would have been well worth the investment.
The conflict between Doctor #1 and our midwife is an example of a common issue that I have experienced in my career and as a leadership consultant. Many of us can be self-deceived in thinking that we are superior to others and this entitles us to correct, disrespect, ignore, or exclude others. (Tweet This)
Doctor #1, like myself and other people that fall into the superiority trap, are not necessarily bad people. We just need help in finding our way out of this self-deception and understand the damage we may cause. This is why team building is so important in developing trusting and efficient work place cultures.
This is just one of the many areas in which team building can help!
Whether I am part of an organization that is considering investing on a team building session, or being approached by an organization to facilitate a session, there are always some vocal opponents. Many of these vocal opponents express that team building sessions are a waste of time.
I actually agree with many of these vocal opponents: team building can be a waste of time if the session:
~ is done as a one time event, without follow-up activities and ways to incorporate the insights into the workplace culture.
~ does not provide tools and structures that the team can use later in the workplace
~ does not include management, executives or colleagues with more education/experience, like Doctor #1.
However, team building can be a successful and effective investment if the session does the following:
~ provides a structure the managers can implement in the workplace that helps the team to consistently understand expectations, communicate proactively, and execute towards a shared vision.
~ includes time and facilitation to practice tools that help the team identify communication issues, develop a shared vision and work together to improve their performance.
~ includes upper management and others in positions of authority in the process.
~ is FUN! Having fun is critically important during the session AND back at work. Team building sessions should provide ideas on how all staff members can bring fun to the workplace. (Tweet This)
Earlier this year, Jim Volkhausen, Assistant Director of the Cornell Teaching and Leadership Center joined me on my podcast, Leading Beyond the Status Quo, to explore the importance of team building and how to ensure the investment results in a transformative experience for the team.
To learn about about designing transformative team building sessions, listen to this edition of Leading Beyond the Status Quo. (Tweet This)
To subscribe to Leading Beyond The Status Quo on iTunes, go to: http://bit.ly/17GbhqN
Contact us to find out more about how GIVE can help you.
It's your turn.
Do you feel the actions of Doctor #1 were justified?
Have you had similar experiences?
How can team building help businesses provide better service?
We all have a tendency to distort others' action and a need to be justified in our actions, and this helps us see ourselves as good and others as bad.
Acting in a negative way will more than likely enable conflict and, more often than not, our actions will be based on incorrect assumptions. As humans, we are inclined to give more weight to negative thoughts as we all struggle with a negativity bias.
-Something someone does angers me (their action is out of my control).
-I see/distort (something I control and is usually based on incorrect assumptions).
-I act (something I control).
-Others act (out of my control).
In order to play to the strengths of the team, a leader must identify and define the strengths of all team members.
The concept of improving on areas of strengths instead of focusing on non-strength areas will allow the team to truly accelerate their performance.
All team members,starting with the supervisor, should define their strengths, share them and leverage them strategically.
The strengths of the team members should be easily accessible via a team "strengths dashboard." This can be online as a website or a shared document that all team members can quickly access.
A shared understanding of all team members' positive and negative traits is critical to developing trust.
An easy-to-remember personality traits tool is necessary.
All team members, including the supervisor, need to develop an understanding of how they can help their team members maximize their positive traits while minimizing their negative tendencies.
The team's personality mix should be documented and shared via an online tool like a website or shared document. Combined with the Team Strength dashboard, this will accelerate the learning process for team members.
We have been conditioned to jump into the goals and seldom take the time to get to know each other as people.
Investing on safety and trust will yield a strong safety zone. This is the foundation on which the strong team can blossom.
Considering the vast waste of valuable time that results from conflict, investing a little time to start relationships and a good foundation of safety and trust for the whole team is a wise investment.
Trust and Safety must start and be nurtured at the core or "safety zone" of the team.
Forgiveness and patience are key to a successful "safety zone."
As safety and trust grows, team members begin influencing each other in positive ways.
Knowledge and understanding of strengths and personality traits is critical in the "safety zone."
-As team members start understanding what it means to work outside the safety zone and how they should start supporting each other in this context.
As this process is developing, the leader must start analyzing and planning how to influence the team AND those outside of the team.
This requires humility and an authentic desire to add value.
Very difficult to do well and consistently.
Team members that often operate outside the sphere of influence must be identified as the team's delegates.
Delegates' strengths, personality tendencies and understanding of how to control and not enable conflict must be an area of focus for the leader.
Delegates often face complicated politics, real and perceived attacks from others, as well as other pressures.
Pressures may lead delegates to bad tendencies when they come back to the safety zone.
Other team members must be aware of the pressures delegates face and have a level of forgiveness combined with a willingness to share honoring feedback. There is a limit to the forgiveness, as trust disabling behavior must be controlled by everyone.
The leader must be aware of her/his strengths as well as her/his positive and negative tendencies.
The leader must also understand how to avoid conflict.
Delivering feedback in a non-judgmental way can be very difficult, and this makes feedback preparation and/or templates extremely useful for staff members.
As hard as it is to prepare honoring and honest feedback, it is often harder to receive the feedback.
The leader should provide the team with a feedback invitation template that helps team members prepare to deliver and receive feedback.
The leader can show how the feedback process can be a strategic part of the team's ability to develop trust and learn from its members, by asking for feedback from every staff member. She or he should schedule specific times for each team member to deliver feedback to the leader. Listening actively, not becoming defensive, and finding ways to improve based on the feedback provided are opportunities for the leader to lead by example in one of the most difficult areas of the trust enabling framework.
The whole process is almost impossible to accomplish when there is a low level of trust and high level of fear among team members.
We all play a role in conflict development and supervisors need to help all team members understand how conflict develops and what we can do to prevent it . This is critical to enabling the team's ability to maintain harmony, maximize its strengths and consistently exceed expectations.
The most influential book I have read on this topic is Leadership and Self Deception from the Arbinger Institute. The model of collusion presented in this book provides an excellent explanation of our tendency to distort others' actions into "self-justifying" reasons for judging others (while seeing ourselves as good, hardworking and honest). In reality, this self-image is seldom the truth, as we often engage in negative politics and confrontations that simply hinder the teams' ability to achieve the best results possible. The consequences can range from team members avoiding each other to full-blown HR issues requiring hours of valuable time. This often results in less than stellar performance and a huge waste of resources.
The graphic below does a wonderful job of illustrating how conflict usually develops. Starting with step #1, someone acts, and in step #2, we “ass_u_me” that our distortion of their action is what the other person actually intended. We then act (step #3) in a way that actually is intended as some sort of retaliation or attack. We then come to step #4, where the other person sees our retaliation or attack. At this point, it really does not matter what their actual intent was in step #1. By now, conflict has "locked-in" and we are “in the box.” This is completely irrational but amazingly common.
Based on our tendency to distort others' actions, we tend to see what others do in ways that maximize our frustration. I often find that our assumptions about others' intentions are wrong. It is a lot harder, however, for us to give them the benefit of the doubt and drum up the courage to ask the other person's intent. Instead, we typically just get frustrated from someone else's action, let that frustration grow into negative energy and allow the shadow areas of our personalities to lead us into conflict.
Authority can be a double edge sword!
Imagine how unfair this process can be when management distorts what staff members do in ways that affect an employee’s performance rating. This can be one of the most damaging actions a supervisor can make. When we are given supervisory authority over others, we have to be extremely careful to verify our assumptions as authority can enhance our need to be “right” and justified in our assumptions. There is nothing more detrimental to staff morale than being incorrectly judged by management.
In addition to hurting employee morale, supervisors can cause an immense amount of damage if they incorrectly interpret the actions of their peers and share their distorted assumptions with their direct reports. This often leads to issues across departments in an organization.
Supervisors, above everyone else, must understand the damage they can cause by engaging in collusion with direct reports and their peers! If they don’t, they can negatively affect performance in their department and across the organization.
What is a supervisor to do? How can management ensure that distortion and assumptions are not driving their actions? While we may not always be able to maintain harmony and completely avoid our tendency to distort others’ actions, using feedback as a strategic organizational tool can greatly improve our odds of avoiding costly assumptions in the workplace.
"How dare he tell ME that I could do better, doesn't he know how terrible he is and how poorly the rest of the team thinks of him?! Wait until I tell Rosita about this, she is going to love this!"
Unless the supervisor implements a feedback mechanism with appropriate coaching and specific tools, feedback can actually hinder relationships and performance. While sharing honest and honoring feedback is a key factor in managing conflict, giving and receiving feedback requires practice, patience and, very often, forgiveness. I have found that delivering feedback in a non-judgmental way can be very difficult, and this makes feedback preparations extremely useful for staff members. As hard as it is to prepare honoring and honest feedback, it can be even harder to receive feedback and learn from it.
Proceed with Caution...
Successful feedback is almost impossible to accomplish when there is a low level of trust and high level of fear among team members. More than likely, if we are in conflict with someone who is attempting to deliver feedback to us, we will be judging that person during the entire dialog. It is critical for the supervisor to understand this and proactively address this situation.
Honest and non-judging feedback is critical in our efforts to learn about ourselves and about each other. It is also an area in which "one step forward, two steps back" scenarios are likely. The supervisor must endorse this process while providing coaching and tools to help all team members do their best when sharing or receiving feedback. Depending on the types of issues the team is facing, starting this process can be extremely complicated. The supervisor must be very cautious and work closely with Human Resources for advice and support.
Start at the top
An effective tactic for supervisors in the implementation of a feedback mechanism is to invite feedback from all staff members. The supervisor must make sure everyone knows that the intent is to help the supervisor be more effective and to learn from everyone in the team. It is important to stress that this needs to be a respectful session, and the supervisor must be prepared to actively listen and avoid being defensive. If this is done appropriately, the supervisor has an opportunity to show each member of the team the best way to receive feedback. During a subsequent general meeting, the supervisor can then report the shared feedback to the whole staff and advise them of the supervisor’s plans to address that feedback.
Again, proceed with caution. Authority can be a strong temptation to distort the feedback provided and enter into collusion. If the supervisor gets defensive and starts justifying actions during the feedback session, then the wrong example will be set. If the supervisor can’t do what is being asked of others, how can the supervisor expect team members to receive feedback with an open mind and positive attitude?
Set the example and do what you ask of others
If done correctly, the supervisor can show how the feedback process can be a strategic part of the team's ability to develop trust, learn from its members, and deliver outstanding results. The supervisor can show how asking for feedback, listening actively, and finding ways to improve can grow trust in the team and improve performance. If the supervisor starts leading better based on feedback from staff members, employees will recognize the effort. Unfortunately, what I often see are supervisors that ask staff members to do something they don’t do themselves.
By setting the example and providing tools (such as the feedback invitation e-mail below) as well as coaching, the supervisor can put a feedback mechanism in place that leverages all the strategies I have covered in the previous 5 articles. Strength themes, personality types, team safety, growing the sphere of influence, and maintaining harmony can all be used in the feedback process.
Hi xxxx, we have had some activity on our XYZ project and I would really like for you and I to have a feedback dialog. It would be great if I could share some thoughts with you and get your perspective about some of the XXXX XXXX issues we have had in the last few days.
Also, if you have any feedback you would like to share with me, I would be very interested. My intent is to have an open dialog with you so that we can honor each other and learn about ways that we can be better together.
If you would like to do this, let me know when you can meet. I would be happy to set something up for us.
Thanks for your consideration.
In order to consistently deliver influential and successful products, the supervisor must focus on establishing a strong foundation or "safety zone" where trust and safety are nurtured for all staff members. The safety zone can become a source of creativity and energy which enables the team to influence others in their division, the organization, and outside the organization.
Expanding the team’s sphere of influence will bring many leadership opportunities and these opportunities will bring a lot of fear and risk to all team members. The safety zone is an area of refuge and strategy where all team members can support each other as the challenges of influencing others develop. Establishing and nurturing the safety zone requires that all team members have a good understanding of the sequence and nature of the steps necessary in group development as well as their teammates' strengths and personality traits.
The graphic below illustrates the safety zone in green and the increase in risk and fear that occurs as team members pursue opportunities to lead outside the safety zone. The sphere of influence expands to all the organizational levels and beyond.
Based on strengths and job responsibilities, some staff members will be consistently expanding the team’s sphere of influence by working outside the safety zone while others will spend most of their time and efforts inside the safety zone. Pressure from outside and within can lead team members to go into their negative personality traits. As the leader and other team members begin to understand how others behave under stress, forgiveness and patience will be key factors in developing safety. At the beginning of this process, all team members are learning about themselves as well as their teammates. This takes time and a lot of attention from the leader. Feedback tools must be introduced and strongly recommended when conflict arises as a way to enable authentic and productive communication. Trust and safety will only develop when team members have the courage to talk to one another about their issues, can accept responsibility for their mistakes, and feel that others will not seek to hurt them. This is especially true about the team members and the manager. If the team members fear the manager, enabling trust will be most difficult.
Staff members that consistently work outside the safety zone are considered delegates of the team. The role can be a very difficult and stressful one for the delegates. As the trust and safety begins to develop in the safety zone, the team's delegates will begin to realize how harshly and aggressively people outside the team behave at times, especially the higher ranking members of the organization. Unfortunately, bullying is very common and this can cause delegates to fall into their negative behavior patterns when they return to the team. This dynamic must be articulated and explained to all team members as delegates may require a lot of understanding and forgiveness from all team members and their leaders.
Maintaining harmony and minimizing conflict become priorities for supervisors in order to develop a sustainable safety zone for all team members.