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ARTICLE: To Improve Your Team, First Work on Yourself

Updated: May 1, 2020


Jennifer Porter, an executive and team coach at The Boda Group, recently wrote on that leaders and teammates often describe their team as “dysfunctional," their teammates as "annoying," and everyone else as not knowing how to operate effectively.

As an experienced team development practitioner, Jennifer knows that these are not accurate or helpful assessments of the situation. Teams are complex systems of individuals who bring different preferences, skills, experiences, perspectives, and habits to the group. The odds of improving that complex system in a meaningful and sustainable way are higher if team members AND the leader learn to master 3 foundational capabilities:

Internal self-awareness—understanding your feelings, beliefs, and values—your inner narrative. When we don’t understand ourselves, we are more likely to believe the behaviors of others are the result of negative intent or character, and that our own behaviors are caused by circumstance. But internal self-awareness can be learned—by simply pausing, reflecting, and considering your responses to these questions when you find yourself in challenging or emotionally-charged scenarios (and don't rush to answer them):

  • What emotions am I experiencing?

  • What am I assuming about another person or the situation?

  • What are the facts vs. my interpretations?

  • What are my core values, and how might they be impacting my reactions?

External self-awareness—understanding how our words and actions impact others. Most of us have no idea how our behaviors are impacting colleagues, so it’s difficult to recognize and leverage our strengths and identify and correct behaviors that negatively impact the team. How can we do this? Begin by observing others’ reactions during discussions. Did someone raise their voice/stop talking/gesture/sit back from the table/smile? Be mindful of the fact that you will reach some inaccurate conclusions—your interpretations will be influenced by your personal beliefs and experiences. A more direct approach can be taken by asking teammates for specific, straightforward feedback (carefully assess whether to do it in the moment of a discussion at hand or to ask later). It may feel risky and uncomfortable, but it’s the only way you can get accurate data about the impact of your words and actions. Ask your teammates:

  • What am I doing in team meetings that is helpful?

  • What am I doing that is not helpful?

  • If you could change one part of how I interact with the team, what would it be?

Personal accountability—focus on holding yourself accountable. Check yourself for unhealthy patterns: a tendency to blame or criticize others, defend yourself, feign confusion, or avoid the issue altogether. Take these steps:

  • Recognize when there is a problem. Resist the urge to look away or talk about how busy you are instead.

  • Accept that you are part of the problem. You are absolutely contributing to the situation.

  • Take personal responsibility for solving the problem.

  • Stick with it until the problem is completely solved.

Most teams learn to operate more effectively by building and strengthening these three capabilities over time. Changing how we process information and respond requires not just learning these new skills, but also demonstrating them long enough to form new habits. Effective teammates invest the time and energy needed to build these foundational skills, so they can be better at tackling the difficult business opportunities and challenges that they face.

Read the full article here.

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