Here is what I’m seeing lately:
The issue with most teams is NOT that team members are not connected well enough. The problem is that they’re TOO connected. That is, there is such a high degree of emotional sensitivity to each other that truth becomes lost, rationality is sacrificed, and intuition and creativity are stifled.
Effective teams are composed of clear, well-differentiated “I’s”. Each member focuses first of all on his/her own functioning. This enables them to manage better the emotional reactions they might have to other people or other ideas. It also provides better access to their best thinking and intuition, values and spirit.
Here are some signs that a team is over-connected at an emotional level:
• Team members voice emotional reactions to each other’s statements.
• Members say things or avoid saying things based on the emotional reactions they might hear back.
• Important statements (beliefs, desires, disagreements) are not articulated because of a concern for the reception they might receive, the reactions they might provoke.
• False statements are made (half-truths, insincere agreement, partial disclosure). These statements are articulated with a hope that they will be received well, and therefore that the speaker will be perceived well.
• Topics are raised or not raised based on projections of what might be stirred up in various members.
• Some members’ statements go uncontested (though there may be serious disagreement) and other members’ statements are rebuffed almost automatically (because of the stored-up emotions others have in relation to those people).
• There is often discussion in twosomes or small groups afterward about what happened in the meeting.
More teams have been “done in” by unenthusiastic, polite quasi-agreement than by difficult, emotionally charged, outright conflict. Cheap, compromised resolutions are far more dangerous than an openly-acknowleged agreement to disagree.
I’m not advocating team free-for-alls here. I’m imagining the creation of a certain atmosphere, one in which members manage themselves first. In this atmosphere:
• Sensitive issues are discussed and resolved fully and cleanly
• Radical ideas are introduced, and are received without judgment
• Feedback is given and received with openness and respect
• Creative thinking and imaginative problem-solving occur routinely
• Truly satisfying, exciting resolutions emerge, and
• Genuine connection happens, rather than lukewarm complicity or unexpressed tension.
What are the guidelines that promote this kind of atmosphere? What team agreements will move a group in this direction? Here is a suggested set:
Team Member Responsibilities
1. I have the primary responsibility to focus on my own functioning. This includes, for example:
• I’m aware of the emotional reactions that occur in me (pleasure or pain).
• I take responsibility for those emotional stirrings by not ascribing responsibility to anyone else for how I feel now, and for not expecting anyone to “make me feel” more happiness or less pain in the future.
• I take the risk of speaking respectfully about my own beliefs, values and experience, regardless of how others might react.
• I take responsibility for my openness to new ideas and to feedback coming from my team members.
• I work to distinguish between my emotional reactions and my thinking, between excitement and instinct, between fear-based objections and intuition. If I’m unclear about which is which, I let others know that when I speak.
2. I have the responsibility to speak with respect to the rest of the team. This doesn’t mean changing the content of my message. It does mean recognizing that respectful presentation promotes dialogue. It reduces the possibility of triggering reactions in others.
3. I have the responsibility to speak directly with others when I have an idea, an objection, a reaction, etc. This means resisting the urge to go to a third party for alliance building, complaining, lobbying, etc. The only legitimate reason to engage with a third party is for coaching that helps me re-engage with the other person.
4. I have the responsibility to allow others on the team to have their own relationships with each other. This means allowing others to enjoy each other or rely on each other without moving to insert myself. It also means allowing others to experience tension in their relationship without attempting to fix it myself.
5. I have the responsibility to maintain, from my end, an open, honest, direct and respectful individual relationship with each member of the team.
6. When I believe other team members are violating these principles, my first responsibility is to manage my own anxiety about that!