Early in my professional career, I was blessed to work with a small, yet strong, team of law enforcement customers who covered an entire state with very limited resources. The one thing I learned somewhere along the way was to listen to what they needed. It may have helped the process considering they were armed. But more importantly, if I didn’t do my job correctly, I could have put their lives in harm’s way.
Now, in today’s rapidly changing world with options for just-in-time products and services, it’s easy to develop a mindset that all products and services are just regular commodities. When in reality just the opposite is true. When budgets are stretched and schedules are shortened the margin for error is reduced significantly. A team that can effectively communicate becomes an extremely critical element and adds tactical and strategic value to the process.
Building a valued team starts with communications
We have all experienced that feeling of being hooked, letting our emotions show, and then taking a bad situation and making it worse. Following the inevitable unfolding of events, we then kicked ourselves to remind us that we are better than that. Then we turn around and do the same thing again…and again. Maybe it happened at home, work, with our friends or at church. It didn’t seem to matter when the emotion kicked in. It was if we were on autopilot. That’s the bad news, but the good news is that we can improve how we respond.
Team Building 101 starts with talking to self rather than self talking to us. That means not letting emotions override reason. The emotional instinct that kicks in is designed to protect us from a threat. The real question to consider is whether the threat is real or just perceived.
Today, we have so many tools for communicating that we sometimes put our ability to communicate on the back burner. I firmly believe that couples, parents, teachers, business leaders and even church leaders would serve their teams better if they put more effort in communicating earlier in the process rather than practicing damage control to recover from a self-inflicted crisis.
Throughout my career working with critical infrastructure professionals, I experienced a broad range of functional and dysfunctional teams. It should be obvious that the more collaborative and respectful the team was of individual members, the higher overall team trust and productivity became. But I would be remiss if I also didn’t share the learning from being on teams that lacked respect and trust. To me, that amplifies the importance of communications within a team.
Communications: Constructing or killing careers
As part of a weekly leadership roundtable group, several of my colleagues and I are working at improving our skills at being our clients’ trusted advisor. At the moment, we’re doing an in-depth study of the book, “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High.”
In the foreword, noted leadership authority Stephen Covey said this book “deals with the whole dynamic of crucial conversations in a wonderfully comprehensive way. But even more important, it draws our attention to those defining moments that literally shape our lives, shape our relationships, and shape our world.”
It is our individual choice, to use our communications skills to help develop and grow the team, or use them as a verbal spear to kill the good will and energy in an effort to control and manage the team. The latter may produce short-term results, but the lack of trust will peel away the team like layers of an onion. If we are passionate about something, we should put our best foot forward rather than find a way to pull our foot out of our mouth.
I recall once, years after a long series of very difficult meetings that our project team managed successfully, we were faced with significant funding and political challenges that could have killed the project. Following the team’s successful management of each challenge as presented, the vote to proceed was unanimously supported.
That didn’t mean that the project moved forward without issues. This is real life and challenges have to be dealt with. But one thing the team did do was work hard to stay focused on addressing the merits of the challenge regardless of who or how the challenge was presented. In another words, we didn’t take the challenges personally.
Bring your “A” game
The higher the challenge the more crucial the discussion these are the times when we should deliver our best. When we step up as a spouse, parent, teacher, mentor, coach, or business or government leader, we have the opportunity to create defining moments that make things better.
It is ironic that during these times when we find ourselves less than prepared, we’re surprised when we don’t handle it as well as we could have. When we try to add value to our team by being our client’s trusted advisor, we and our relationships would be well-served if we pause, bite our lip and listen to what is being said, not focus on how we feel about the message. Then, thoughtfully, like a professional basketball player delivering a game-winning 3-point shot, we can respond with confidence and watch the effectiveness of our communications game improve, hitting nothing but net.
We do need to remember, communications is only the first step in building a value add team. Next time, we’ll explore the second step, consensus. It’s more than just agreement.