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Professional Respect on Teams, Part Two

My end of the year statistical review highlights that an older post on professional respect on teams is number one for page views. In short, I pointed to several things that highly productive teams do and say collectively. The bottom line is that without having high regard for each person’s professional expertise, the team will struggle.

So let me begin this new year with some additional thoughts and observations about creating and sustaining a great team.

Of course it is helpful if your company has a healthy culture and your CEO is a great role model and the staff is wicked smaht (sorry, my Boston showing through) and collaboration is a core operating principle. All these factors set a good stage for productive team work even if these are not hard and fast guarantees. Most of us don’t work in these types of environments though so how do we make the most out of a so-so situation in the real world?

Set a good example. Be the change, act as if, rise above it all and every other cliche you can think of. Do not underestimate the power of one individual doing the right thing. If you put the collective good, the company goals and the success of others above or on par with your own needs, your example may persuade others to follow. Each time you are sitting in a team meeting and a member is obviously posturing for greater favor (and everyone in the room is rolling their eyes about it), don’t sit silently. You could say, “It’s clear where you are Mac but we need to be together on this. What’s on everyone else’s minds?” Keep it neutral, don’t snipe at the asshole, just bring the focus back to the team. When these types of moments go uninterrupted repeatedly it tears at the fabric of the team. Everyone knows that Mac disrupts the collective momentum so the good intentions of others get less and less expressed. Pretty soon the whole team is checked out just because of one idiot. It’s not a high risk or bold move to simply shift the conversation and to give Mac less and less air space.

Focus on the strengths of your team mates instead of their flaws. As much as we would all love to be on all-star teams, most teams have a range of A, B and C players. Naturally, we perceive ourselves to be A players so we have limited patience for those who do not meet our standards. We waste time in our heads bitching and moaning about those losers and most of us will not be shy about telling others all about how we had to cover for someone. To quote the Church Lady, “Well, isn’t that special?” The more you make it known that you are so much better than others, the less respect will come your way. Look, this is human nature. We all like to think of ourselves as special but we don’t have to do it at the expense of others. Even if you don’t have the highest regard for some of your team mates, look for some things they do well and praise them for their contributions. That’s what they are doing with you…overlooking your weaknesses and focusing on your strengths.

Ask questions, ask for help, listen. Indicate that you don’t know it all, that you need others to do your best, that others are valuable and the spotlight does not always need to be on you. These behaviors demonstrate respect for others. Sadly, we often forget to do these things because a) we don’t want to appear stupid or b) we think our bosses want us to know absolutely everything or c) we’ve gotten feedback to speak up more and don’t sit back so much or d) all of the above. There is natural and productive competition between peers that is helpful but it can quickly cross the line. This is especially true when we feel we are being judged/scrutinized by others so we put up an overly assertive facade that can’t be cracked. Team and organization dynamics can inadvertently create these behaviors; unintended consequences if you will. Work hard to resist this pull. Stay in the light Luke!

Watch your pronouns. I know you’ve heard a million times that there is no I in team but neither is there a We. Depending on our individual wiring and history and disposition, you will tend towards the individual (I) or the collective (we). No right or wrong, just your nature combined with your experience. For teams to be the most productive, not to mention satisfying, “we” works much better. Teams require each person to hang back from his/her own ego gratification in favor of the greater good. This can be a challenge for some. But this is also where the fun and excitement and creativity comes in. There is nothing quite so rewarding as being a member of an amazing collection of people working towards a common goal.

I’m a big fan of teamwork. Certainly my best professional experiences included a group of smart people who could spark each other’s curiosity and imagination. But I’ll be the first to say that team dynamics can be very tricky if each person jockeys for the limelight. So put that spotlight away and exchange it for lots of overhead lighting.

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