It's not me, it's you

Ever gathered with like-minded colleagues after a formal meeting to have the 'real' meeting and share what you really think? Probably more common than you realise with most of us more comfortable with the terra firma of sharing our honest thoughts with others who think like us.

Not surprising when you consider how hard wired we are to belong. After all it’s what kept us safe for thousands of years before the relationship between change and survival got a lot more complicated.

Few of us are really comfortable with conflict and most of us go out of our way to avoid it. Usually we find ways to adapt to other's arguments and points of view rather than challenging them. Mostly we seek to surround ourselves with people who affirm our sense of self by satisfyingly agreeing with us. 

This is amplified even more in teams. Stronger voices tend to get the air play whilst quieter members keep their real thoughts to themselves. So it’s not surprising that when there is a dissenting voice we see it as a problem, someone to be ‘fixed’ so that the team can harmoniously get on with its tasks.  

The temptation is to single out an individual, to see their behaviour as somehow at odds with the team. However in my experience of coaching teams it’s rarely that simple. Teams are complex, a mix of relationships and personalities, each dynamically linked. Every team is also part of a broader system, the organisation, with interrelationships and interdependencies impacting every team within it.

Individual's behaviour in teams can’t be explained in isolation, instead they mirror the responses and reactions in the team, most significantly those of the leader.

Put simply, correcting the behaviour of an individual is fastest when leaders turn the team bravely to the mirror, searching for clues in the reflection that best explains their contribution. In doing this can teams move forward to choosing the behaviours that will best serve them to achieve their goals.

Behaviour in teams is a shared responsibility. A great way to support this is to collaboratively create a team charter, setting out the guiding principles that the team will hold themselves accountable for. Regularly looking in the mirror for opportunities for continuous learning and improvement helps the team to get focused help with the development areas required in pursuit of this goal.