I go through phases where I devour books, usually when I am attending industry conferences where speakers are recommending books that have elicited “AHA!” moment for them. In many cases, it’s the same handful of books being quoted repeatedly. These 3 books in particular have been coming up a lot, and they inspired me to rethink how I work, and live:
1) Drive (which I am actually reading right now for a second time)
2) Five Dysfunctions of a Team
3) Getting Naked.
The first is a psychological study into what motivates people (hint:it’s NOT actually money in most cases). The last 2 are actually “business fables”, a genre that I hadn’t realized existed before now, and that I really enjoy. I am noticing a few themes common to all 3 of these books, that can have a tremendous positive impact on organizations. Yet in my experience, these themes rarely come up when management is discussing strategy for change, whether it be organization-wide or focused on a particular group. No matter how well thought out your processes and procedures are, or how “best of breed” your new expensive tooling is, one thing will always lay waste to even the best laid plans, is culture. Now, addressing corporate culture is nothing I can sum up in a single blog post, but one aspect of it in particular calls out to me as needing urgent attention. FEAR.
I am not suggesting the use of fear to control your team, quite the contrary. I am suggesting that to strengthen your team, you need to expose your fears, more specifically you need to show each other vulnerability. Does that sound a little odd to you? Are you thinking “how can I be a strong leader or teammate if I am showing fear, or appearing vulnerable to my team?” It seems a bit counterintuitive.
Many of the issues that prevent people from breaking old habits, from really making a difference, from moving forward, is guardedness. I see this not only on teams I have worked with professionally, but in myself in my daily life. I suspect many of us keep our guard up by default. We protect our calendars, our intellectual property, our reputations. But this often means we are effectively operating as a team of 1, and there is no real sense of understanding or trust between team members or between the team and its leadership. Adding to that, if there is an implied stigma (or explicit punishment) for saying “I don’t know” or “I made a mistake”, more focus and energy will be spent by people on protecting themselves, rather than on learning from their mistakes and improving.
For the team, it means admitting when they need to do some research before taking on a new project, admitting they need more time when their forecasts were off because they did not understand the full scope of a problem, or admitting when they have hit a wall and need some help to make progress. For management it means admitting your own mistakes to your own managers as well as to your team, trusting your team to do the right thing, and accepting mistakes as an opportunity for growth. If all of that seems overwhelming, start by sharing your stories with one another - a few basic facts like your least and most favorite subjects in school, your hobbies, the last movie you saw. The simple act of sharing a few bits of personal back story with one another can really open people up, inspire a base level of trust, and even uncover common threads that bring a team closer together. It might seem trite, or overly simplistic, but you’d be surprised how differently you view your teammates when you find out they coach little league 3 nights a week where your kids play, or that someone else has also dreamed of being a concert pianist all of their life. Give it a try…
Until we all learn to be open, honest, and vulnerable with the people we work with, it will be extremely difficult to ever build up the level of trust necessary to truly improve and grow, both as individuals and as a team. And seriously, go to Amazon and pick up those 3 books right now. It may just be the best $40 you’ve spent in a while.