Recently I have been blessed with the experience of working with a tight knit, cohesive and collaborative team. It was a small team and there was a strong sense of belonging to something that was bigger than ourselves as individuals. There wasn’t a hierarchy within the team but there were three distinctive roles and we largely existed without supervision or much input from management. We were under-staffed with regards to the number of employees our team was designed to be comprised of, but we supported each-other in various ways to be effective with the increased workload and time constraints.
There were various challenges that are inherent in an environment where the aim is to do more with less, but we were all passionate about our work and the good health of the team. The atmosphere in the office was light and we had fun as a team. The one area we sometimes struggled was our ability to deliver constructive criticism to each other. The bond and respect we had sometimes made it difficult for certain members of the team to deliver constructive feedback.
Fast forward several months, we have a new addition to the team. We were elated to have another set of hands to help lighten the workload, and set upon the task of training our colleague and welcoming them to the team. It was here however that some challenges ensued. It was our sole responsibility to orient this new individual to the role, the office and the team. However, we experienced this new colleague as very unapproachable, negative and combative. The atmosphere in the office became dark and team communication began to get strained and at times argumentative.
In an attempt to alleviate the tension in our team, we made a conscious effort to deliver frank constructive feedback in the moment, rather than letting things fester and we made efforts to get to know each other a little better outside of the office with occasional gatherings at a local restaurant or co-worker’s house after work. We planned and implemented team building exercises which elevated the non-leaders of the group (the more soft-spoken and less directive) into leadership positions, based on activities that incorporated their personal interests and expertise in certain areas – this really helped us to re-define our experience of our colleagues and encouraged the natural leaders of the group to trust and respect the guidance of members who less often took charge. We also began delegating work tasks based on individual strengths and interests which appeared to allow the newest member of our team to feel more ownership and self-determination.
This experience taught me a lot about myself, my work ethic and my approach to team interactions. I realized that I have very high expectations for myself and my work and I project those expectations on to others, which can be unrealistic and daunting. One of the things I value highly when working as part of a team, is the diversity and varied strength and experience. The ways I approach tasks or view the big picture is merely one perspective and often times my colleagues have opened me up to a new way of thinking or approaching elements of my work. I have also learned that self-reflection is invaluable and that if I don’t state my opinion, whether I agree or disagree, I am not actively participating in the conversation. I have learned to try to accept my personal limitations and the limitations of co-workers for what they are and to be mindful of not projecting my expectations onto others. I learned to pick my battles carefully, being more flexible and dug my heals in less often. I also learned that people on a team are at different places in their development and to acknowledge and accept that. I learned to model positive behaviours and to keep contentious conversations solution focused.
In the beginning the original team members would have sidebar conversations that would quickly turn into complaining sessions. We started to acknowledge this negative behaviour and increased the frequency of team meetings, from twice a month to weekly, and took our issues and concerns to the team for open dialogue.
In summary, instead of the team trying to change an individual we effectively went about changing the way the whole team operates. The changes we made benefitted everyone on the team and enabled us to work in a much more collaborative way. Team meetings went from confrontational to constructive. I wouldn’t say that everything is perfect but we have come a long way as a team.