by Rick Packer
This month’s Thoughts from the Field (September, 2022) is written by Rick Packer, my colleague in Atlanta, GA. In the article, Rick talks about the necessity of “setting aside individual preferences to focus on the collective good” within a team. He also highlights some real world illustrations of how team leaders can practice this discipline, based on the The Five Dysfunctions of a Team model.
This is always a tough concept to live out, so I know you’ll find Rick’s article helpful!
I love football. And now that my children are grown, I prefer watching all-day both Saturday and Sunday during football season. But that would not be smart or healthy as it dishonors important relationships with my wife, church, and community. During the pandemic, I loved leading virtual client sessions. On this side of the pandemic, for selfish reasons I would still prefer virtual sessions, but that would not be in the client’s best interest as my work is best conducted in-person.
Setting aside preferences is difficult, yet necessary to honor the work.
Passing Through Our Roles
Several years ago, during a client offsite, the company’s CEO explained to the leadership team that “All of us are passing through our roles. Someone was in our role before us. Someone will be in our role after us. So, we must do the best possible job doing what’s required of the role.” Being members of a truly cohesive team means honoring our role as a team member first and a functional leader second. Moreover, we need to subordinate ourselves to the role we occupy, intentionally setting aside some personal preferences. And evaluating preferences is an essential step if the team is going to achieve uncommon results built on uncommon relationships.
Preferences and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Our clients are familiar with The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, as it’s a foundational model to help build healthy organizations and cohesive executive teams. However, when strong individual preferences get in the way, application of the model becomes an exercise rather than a transformative process. Here are a few illustrations of individual preferences getting in the way of team cohesion.
Trust requires vulnerability. It’s embracing uncertainty, taking a risk, and quite often exposing ourselves as not always having the answer. We rarely prefer things requiring vulnerability because they can be interpreted as credibility killers, and, in some cases, career killers.
Conflict requires getting comfortable discussing uncomfortable things, not holding back, and going after facts and opinions without attacking each other. It’s not about being right. Rather, it’s about making it right. Left to our own preferences, most of us would rather sit in our comfort, hope we don’t get thrown under the bus, and pray no dirty laundry is aired.
Commitment requires fully supporting a decision even when we disagree. There is simply no other option when we are members of a leadership team. When we don’t show full support, we make it about our preference, not the organization. And why do we have this preference of not showing support when we disagree? Because our preference is to be ‘right’, verses supporting decisions that are not our own. The organization needs us to lead through decisions even when we disagree.
Accountability requires us to have conversations with our peers when promises are not kept. We prefer the leader to have these uncomfortable conversations for us, but on a team it is our obligation to go direct regardless of our position on the team. Otherwise, gossip and rumors abound.
Results require being a horizontal leader over being a vertical advocate. We need to focus on collective outcomes, not an isolated view of individual achievement. Our preference is often a safe ‘report out’ of functional results instead of elevating the conversation to the collective good. A successful quarterback does not go into the huddle saying, “We are going to lose this game, but my stats are amazing!”
The Collective Good
When our motive switches to embracing the responsibility associated with being a team member first and a functional leader second, we start to reprioritize our preferences. We focus on horizontal outcomes more than vertical outcomes. There are no longer undiscussable topics because the team established psychological safety. The team tackles any topic at any time because pursuing healthy conflict exists within collective vulnerability. And when a colleague doesn’t follow through, having peer-to-peer conversations about an unkept promise is the norm, not the exception. Why? Because when all of these points are true, team members stop questioning each other’s motives by setting aside individual preferences to focus on the collective good.
What are your individual preferences that could be potentially holding the team back from true cohesion? Do you prefer security over the risk associated with vulnerability? Do you prefer harmony rather than healthy conflict? Do you prefer meetings end with vague commitments instead of achieving absolute clarity? Do you prefer the leader handles all accountability conversations versus going direct to a peer? Do you prefer focusing on functional results instead of engaging in conversations about collective outcomes?
At your next team meeting, set up a conversation by having everyone review this article. Pick an area that is most challenging for you and share as a team. Regardless of which one you choose, sharing in the team environment will require vulnerability. Which, for most, will be a step towards focusing on the collective good rather than an individual preference.