Are you a team player?

Marcella Bremer Reflection 1 Comment

Team PlayerHow well do you collaborate? Are you a team player? People have a natural tendency to work together and collaborate – as research shows. Cooperation is the basic driver of human civilization, explains Dirk Messner.

Collaboration needs feedback, now and then. Not everyone does everything right all the time. But how do you give feedback? Here’s my reflection on intentions, feedback, kindness, and humble inquiry. According to Schein, the awareness of interdependency is often missing in individualistic cultures: you need the others! You need to collaborate which means in my opinion: you need to be kind, have good intentions, and give your feedback “with love”. Schein stresses that we need to be humble and ask more.

Are you kind enough to truly collaborate?

We all have a drive to belong to a group or team or tribe and feel acknowledged and respected and safe – even in individualistic cultures. In general, we tend to go to great lengths to adjust to our group culture. We copy the others, as I know very well from my organizational culture work. We also coach others to behave according to group norms, and if they don’t adapt, we’ll correct them in many different ways.

We can give them feedback, preferably one-on-one. That way the other person may feel safe enough to stay open to hearing our advice. Private feedback is a respectful way to help people improve their performance. It has a good intention: keeping the other from losing face, keeping them open and helping them adjust to our group or performance norms.
One-to-one feedback helps people improve their performance Click To Tweet But good intentions aren’t always the same as outcomes, as we know (isn’t the road to hell paved with good intentions? as we say in Dutch). However, they are an essential ingredient in collaboration and culture. Even though I delivered my feedback one-on-one, cautiously and kindly, the other person may still feel hurt – depending on subtle things between us and the other person’s state of development. But at least, I delivered my feedback kindly – which is the basis for collaboration and development.

Collaboration criteria: Intentions

But if good intentions are lacking in the first place, we can’t expect nice behaviors in collaboration at all. What happens if kindness is lacking?

We copy, coach and correct others all the time – and often this doesn’t happen through constructive one-on-one feedback with kindness. We may humiliate or ridicule others in public, in the group. We gossip or complain behind their backs. We might even become rude and bully them in public, intimidating them with harsh language and judgments. One of the worst social punishments is not even being shouted at in front of the group – but being expelled and shut out. Not being acknowledged anymore, but ignored. No longer belonging to that group – that hurts, even if the group’s culture was hostile and hurtful.
Public feedback hurts people. Its intentions are shady Click To Tweet Being shut out was life threatening, way back in the evolution. But today, it still hurts. As do the other behaviors that people claim are intended to “coach and correct others” and help them improve performance and collaboration. Whatever the intentions of people blaming, complaining, gossiping, ridiculing, bullying, bickering, intimidating, cursing, calling names, judging: they lack kindness and, therefore, don’t pass my criteria of “good intentions”. I value kindness above all in collaboration, and in any human interaction.

Add Kindness to Collaboration

team-playerWhen people claim to give feedback to others, but do it publicly in a harsh way – I question those intentions. They’re not giving feedback – and they are not at all helping the subject improve performance – by humiliating them in public. They are degrading others, maybe even making them feel small and humiliated – which will hinder the subject to improve his or her performance. Feeling humiliated is not a state of mind that enables learning or peak performance! Nor does it help people open up to collaboration.

Either the public-harsh-feedback-giver did mean well but is completely unaware of human behavior, or they don’t have good intentions toward the subject – and just need to feel better, superior, feared, respected, noticed or acknowledged themselves…. They have good intentions for themselves – they want to get things their way, they are impatient, or they need to console their own fears.

When I see this happen with experienced leaders or consultants, I suspect the latter. They need to put someone down – to feel better themselves. They know no other strategy to have their way and influence results.

Phew…. That means we have to develop ourselves: become aware of what still hurts and hinders us – and deal with that hurt, so we feel good about ourselves regardless of our circumstances. Only then can we be calm and kind to others and collaborate constructively. Otherwise, we can’t lead, we can’t guide change, we can’t truly work together. Otherwise, we can’t give feedback. We can’t coach and correct people – without hurting them and thus our teams.

Don’t get me wrong, by the way: It is necessary to give feedback, to coach and correct. Doing it in a kind way, is by no means soft. It allows you to be firm and clear while you achieve more with kindness.  You cherish the relationship and the other person – keeping them open, safe, in a learning state, and willing to give new behaviors or improvements a try.
Heal that which still hurts and hinders you - to become kind Click To Tweet

So: are you kind enough to truly collaborate? Did you do that homework? I am still working on this: I’ve moved from clumsy, emotional feedback and getting myself hurt to more kindness and firmness at the same time. We can hone our kindness every day. And it’s not just me who values good intentions and kindness. Research shows that kind organizational cultures perform better. Management by fear has never worked and in our service economies that require many human interactions, it works even less than before.

Ask – Don’t Tell

In his book, Humble Inquiry, Edgar Schein says that we must learn to ask better questions to collaborate in our increasingly complex, interdependent and culturally diverse world. We can no longer assume that we know better, that we know everything and that we can give unsolicited advice and feedback to our team members.
So, instead of giving constructive one-on-one feedback: apply Humble Inquiry. Ask the other what they think: How did it go? Were there things to improve…?
Ask – don’t assume. Ask – don’t judge right away. Ask – don’t tell!
That is the challenge, says Schein. Western, egalitarian and individualistic cultures appreciate high achievers. The awareness of interdependency is often missing: that you need the others on the team! You need to collaborate, which means: you need to be kind, you need good intentions, you need to be humble and ASK.

Sufi saying:

Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates:
At the first gate, ask yourself: Is it true?
At the second gate, ask yourself: Is it necessary?
At the third gate, ask yourself: Is it kind?

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Marcella Bremer co-founded this Leadership & Change Blog and OCAI-online.com. She’s an author and culture & change consultant.


Comments 1

  1. In this article, Marcella has handled a sensitive subject and touched upon all the nuances and subtleties involved really well; I would recommend it as a must read for all aspiring leaders! Let us “Ask – don’t assume. Ask – don’t judge right away. Ask – don’t tell!”
    I fully agree with the observation, “management by fear has never worked”. The use of coercion as an effective tool to make employees fall in line is a fallacy; things may seem to work in the short term but the long term implications would be disastrous…..

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