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Shifting Perspectives for Team Growth & Development

written byRaymond Honingson 09/11/2019

Through which lens are you looking at your team?

I find it helpful to look at things from different perspectives. By doing this I always learn something new. And the surprising perspective – the lens that I never even thought to look through – is often the one that leads to the greatest insights.

A couple of years ago, a participant in one of my workshops asked if it was possible that getting too many compliments could cause burnout. I know the root causes of burnout are much more complex than this, but the question still intrigued me.

My first thought was, how on earth can receiving compliments make you ill? But my curiosity was triggered so I asked him to tell me more. He said that his wife’s manager complimented and praised her in almost every team meeting. He did not do this to the other members of the team and, as a result, she felt singled out. Gradually, she became socially isolated by her colleagues, her stress and anxiety levels went up, and the result was burnout.

The surprising perspective here was that seemingly positive behaviour can have deeply negative effects.

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It’s easy to look at situations through your own, well-used lenses. I do this, you do this, we all do this. Our brains are programmed to look at familiar patterns so that we can choose what action to take. But the familiar path is not always the best way forward. Einstein said we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them. We need to make an effort to look at things differently.

So what does this have to do with team development?

The average manager tends to look through their familiar lenses. Trained in running (part of) a business, they know a lot about processes and structures. Therefore, when change is needed in a team, that is the knowledge they will use. They’ll change processes (ways of working) and/or structures (who reports into whom or what systems to use) because that’s where they usually look. Now, I am not saying you should forget about changing processes or structures. I’m saying start out by looking for a different perspective. Find a new lens, look at the bigger picture. Taking a helicopter view gives you a broader perspective.

This helicopter view can start with this very simple question: what is it that you are not paying attention to? Just write down anything that comes to mind. There is no right or wrong here, just write it down. I bet when you write down 10 things that there are at least three you never considered but have at least a little bit of knowledge about – or someone in your team has.

Let me share three different lenses through which to look at your team.

Lens 1: Values

Values drive your behaviour at a deep, unconscious level. Once you have clarity about your own personal values you gain clarity about which situations you truly thrive in and which situations can cause you a lot of stress. In good situations, your values are being honoured and are present. In bad situations, there is usually a conflict with your values.

Let me give you a personal example. I love to work with a diverse group of people who all appreciate innovation, creativity, humour, celebration and going the extra mile. In this context, I perform at my best without getting exhausted. That is because togetherness, innovation, creativity, humour, celebration and going the extra mile are important to me – they represent some of my values. When these values are not being honoured (e.g. I have to work alone with tight deadlines and repetitive tasks) I certainly do not have a great time and you’ll probably find me on Facebook looking for funny cat videos.

Lens 2: Leading principles

I call them leading principles but you might know them as unwritten rules. Leading principles are those things of which people say: “Oh, that’s how we always do it” or “That’s just how it’s done”.

Recently I heard a surgeon speak about innovation in the operating theatre and how his team looked not only at equipment but also ways of working – specifically those ways of working that became second nature – i.e. a leading principle.

They discovered that the person handing the equipment to the surgeon was always standing on the right side of the surgeon. No big deal, you might think. But if the surgeon is left-handed that becomes a bit clumsy, with more risks involved. When they asked themselves the question: “Why do we do it like this?” you can probably guess the answer. “Oh, that’s how we are used to doing it and nobody has ever questioned it.”

What are the leading principles in your team? And which of those are standing in the way of improving the performance in your team?

Lens 3: Strengths

Strengths are a different way to look at team performance but probably not in a way you are used to. I think that strengths are underestimated forces in a team and can help overcome underperformance.

When things don’t go well, either with a team or an individual, it is easy to focus on weaknesses and the areas where improvement is needed. But simply improving on a weakness is not the most beneficial thing to do. First, you are constantly confronted with weakness/failure and second, it might be in an area where you just don’t feel any passion.

My weakness is working with a high level of detail. It takes a lot of effort and energy for me to do that kind of work. The irony is that I do have an eye for detail, but I have to constantly keep motivating myself and you would probably not get the best result out of me.

What if you look at weaknesses through the lens of your strengths? The question then becomes: “What strengths can I utilise in order to overcome or bypass a weakness?” In other words, you are looking for ways to improve in certain areas by doing the things you love and what you are good at. How does that sound? You can do this individually as well as with a team. With a team, this might be even easier because you can utilise each other’s strengths, and the only thing you have to do is maybe shift some work from one person to another. Instant improvement!

I recently coached a manager and one of the things she wanted her team to improve on was proactivity. She told me: “I have spoken to them 10 times already and nothing has changed.” I helped her identify the team’s strengths and use one of them – in this case taking ownership – in order to increase the team’s proactivity. Within two weeks she saw a change. As a side effect she also realised she was micromanaging the team, which was not helping her achieve her outcome.

Now that you have these three new lenses, where do you start? For each lens, I have some simple “how to” advice to get you started and expand your perspective.

How to: Values

Working with values in teams starts with the individual team members. Do you know the values of all individuals, or at least their top five? If not, ask them what they find important in the context of work. You can also observe them to see when they get enthusiastic (alignment with values) or their mood drops (conflict with values).

Once you know, it might explain why someone is always late, or when a specific topic is discussed the same two people always end up in an argument. Look for the overlap in values as well as where they are different and openly discuss this with your team. The result? More understanding at a human level, less conflict and improved performance.

How to: Leading Principles

Identifying unhelpful leading principles and coming up with better ones is a fairly easy process. Changing leading principles can be a bit of a hassle. You need a lot of patience and repetition because leading principles are ingrained in the DNA of a team.

In order to look at leading principles you can follow this process:
 

  1. Identify leading principles with the team. You can do this by having each individual write down what they think they are. Or you can pick one specific situation or project and use this specific situation to flush out the leading principles.
  2. Determine which ones are helpful and which ones are not.
  3. Determine how to promote helpful leading principles.
  4. Determine how to uproot the unhelpful leading principles.
  5. Which new leading principles do you want to introduce?
  6. How do you monitor and evaluate the change?
  7. What do you do when things go south?

To start you off, here are some examples of leading principles:

  • Our meetings always start late
  • We always have meetings inside the office
  • We never have time to evaluate
  • We always compete with that other team
  • We don’t give compliments
  • Work is just work
  • Clear deadlines limit creativity, therefore we don’t do deadlines

How to: Strengths

This is perhaps the easiest of all. Together with your team, make two lists – one listing the top seven strengths of the team and one listing the top seven weaknesses. Pick a weakness you want to improve. Determine which two or three strengths will help you do this. Find the team members who excel in these strengths and let them role-model the way.

There are so many more lenses through which to look at your team. All you have to do is get rid of your natural blinkers and start looking in a much broader way.

You can start by asking these four questions:

  1. What is it that I am not paying attention to?
  2. What is important to each individual and how is this explaining their behaviour?
  3. What are the unwritten rules we live by – the leading principles?
  4. How can we use our strengths in a different way?

Before that participant came to me with his question about compliments causing burnout, I had always looked at burnout as a result of negative influences – a negative lens. His wife’s story showed me, again, that there is always a perspective you never considered. It reminded me of one of my favourite quotes: “No matter what you think is true, the opposite is also true, always.”

By opening up to the possibility of a surprising perspective, you may also be pleasantly surprised at the effect it can have on the development of your team.