Business owners often tell us that their team is“dysfunctional” (their word, not ours) and ask us to help identify and fix theissue. When we dig deeper and ask them to describe what they are observing indetail, we typically hear that certain team members are problematic and need tochange their behaviour. We also hear vague statements about “them” (everyoneelse) not knowing how to operate effectively. As experienced business coaches,we know that these are not accurate or helpful assessments of the situation.
Teams are complex systems of individuals with differentpreferences, skills, experiences, perspectives, and habits. The odds ofimproving that complex system in a meaningful and sustainable way are higher ifevery team member — including the leader — learns to master these three foundationalcapabilities: internal self-awareness, external self-awareness, and personalaccountability.
Internal self-awareness involves understandingyour feelings, beliefs, and values — your inner narrative. When we don’tunderstand ourselves, we are more likely to succumb to the fundamentalattribution error of believing that the behaviors of others are the result ofnegative intent or character (“he was late because he does not care”) andbelieving that our own behaviours are caused by circumstance (“I was latebecause of traffic”). Teammates with low internal self-awareness typically seetheir beliefs and values as “the truth,” as opposed to what is true for thembased on their feelings and past experiences. They can fail to recognize thatothers may have equally valid perspectives.
The good news is that internal self-awareness canbe learned. To start, you — as a leader of the team or a teammate — can pause, reflect, and consider your responses to thesequestions when you find yourself in challenging or emotionally-chargedscenarios.
· What emotions am I experiencing?
· What am I assuming about anotherperson or the situation?
· What are the facts vs. myinterpretations?
· What are my core values, and howmight they be impacting my reactions?
If you take the time to consider your responses andresist the impulse to rush to an answer, you can learn a great deal aboutyourself. As William Deresiewicz, author of Solitude andLeadership, said in an address at West Point, “[The] first thought is never[the] best thought.”
External self-awareness involves understanding howour words and actions impact others. Most of the business owners we work withhave no idea how their behaviours are impacting their colleagues. As a result,it’s difficult for them to recognize and leverage the strengths that make thema productive teammate, as well as identify and correct behaviours thatnegatively impact the team. Without this knowledge, they can’t improve.
One way to start building external self-awarenessis to observe others’ reactions during discussions. Did someone raise theirvoice? Stop talking? Gesture? Sit back from the table? Smile? You cancollect some valuable information this way. You should also be mindful of thefact that you will reach some inaccurate conclusions. In these situations,remember that you are interpreting why colleagues react the way they do,and those interpretations will be influenced by your personal beliefs andexperiences. Paying attention to your internal self-awareness and consideringhow you reached your initial conclusions will help.
A more direct approach is to ask teammates for specific, straightforward feedback:
· What am I doing in team meetings thatis helpful?
· What am I doing that is not helpful?
· If you could change one part of how Iinteract with the team, what would it be?
This may feel risky and uncomfortable, but it’s theonly way you can get accurate data about the impact of your words and actions.
In terms of timing, you should carefully assesswhether it is additive to the discussion at hand to ask for feedback in themoment, or whether it is better to ask later. For example, in a one-on-oneconversation with a trusted colleague, it’s probably OK to pause and ask.However, in a big team meeting, pausing the conversation to get personalfeedback can be disruptive to what your team is trying to accomplish.
When we think of accountability, we typically thinkof holding others accountable. But the most effective leaders and teammates aremore focused on holding themselves accountable.
Like self-awareness, this sounds easy, though itrarely is. When confronted with a challenge or discomfort, many of us haveestablished unhealthy patterns: blaming or criticizing others, defendingourselves, feigning confusion, or avoiding the issue altogether.
If a team is not working well together, it’s highlylikely that every team member is contributing to the difficulty in some way,and each of them could be taking personal accountability to make the team moreeffective.
To be a personally accountable leader or teammate,you need to take these steps:
1.Recognize when there is a problem.Sometimes this is the hardest part because we’d rather look away or talk abouthow busy we are instead. Resist the urge to do so.
2.Accept that you are part of theproblem. You are absolutely contributing to the situation.
3.Take personal responsibility forsolving the problem.
4.Stick with it until the problem iscompletely solved.
A small shift in mindset will directly impactbehaviors and can have a significant positive impact on an entire team.
In most teams, a typical response to frustration is“my teammate is annoying.” But when an effective leader or teammate becomesfrustrated, she will put the above tips into practice instead:
· Explore her reactions by consideringher emotions, beliefs and values, and asking herself what in her is causingthis reaction (internal self-awareness).
· Consider the impact she may be havingon others by observation or inquiry (external self-awareness).
· Assess how she is contributing to thesituation and make a conscious choice about how to react to improve the team’soutcomes (personal accountability).
Most teams we work with learn to operate moreeffectively by building and strengthening these three capabilities over time.Changing how we process information and respond requires not just learningthese new skills, but also demonstrating them long enough to form new habits. Effective teammatesbelieve that, sometimes, you have to go slow to go fast. They invest the timeand energy needed to build these foundational skills, so they can be better attackling the difficult business opportunities and challenges that they face.
Adapted HBR JenniferPorter January 2019