A couple of years ago, my team and I had one of the hardest and most feeing conversations we’ve ever had as a team. It’s not a conversation I’d recommend just jumping into as it’s easy to have hurt feelings if it happens impulsively. The conversation was a part of a two day retreat where the focus was team building and dynamics. Here’s how the conversation went.
First, we asked the question, “How do you add value to the team?” Rather than answer the question yourself, the rest of the team answered for you. We took turns and around the circle, each team member had 30-45 seconds to share how that person added value to the team. It’s an encouraging exercise that isn’t that unfamiliar to team building. The follow up question was a little more unexpected.
After everyone had a chance to hear from their teammates and a chance to respond to what others shared, we asked the next question. “How do you distract or take away from the team?” Again, this exercise wasn’t for each person to call out their weaknesses, but for teammates to share what they’ve seen and experienced.
To this date, my team will say it was the most awful experience they’ve had as a team – there were many tears. However, that one exercise brought something powerful into the light. Our weaknesses.
Most of us struggle with pride. It may not be all-consuming, but there are elements there that all of us deal with – especially around our weaknesses. Self-preservation is natural. We’re familiar with phrases like, “never let them see you cry.” We’re told to put our best foot forward, lead from our strengths and minimize our weaknesses. Even in “authentic” conversations, we tend to “spin” our weaknesses rather than be truly honest about our growth areas.
Here’s what made this team exercise so amazing.
Your team knows exactly what you’re not good at. You know exactly what you’re not good at. However, most teams don’t have a culture where a conversation can be had about the things we’re not good at. Pride and embarrassment get in the way.
So, a little over a year ago, I got to hear about four people that I love and trust look me in the eye and tell me how they saw me struggle with engaging in conflict and difficult conversations. They were absolutely right. It’s not that I’m a conflict avoider (completely), but more of a conflict delay-er. I’ll put off the hard conversations as long as I can and often times it creates a bottleneck that affects other people.
Rather than experience embarrassment or shame about this conversation, I have experienced freedom. Now I have a team that has permission to speak freely about this. When they see this tendency of mine rise to the surface, they call it out. They help me schedule the conversation I need to have right away so that we can move past it.
If I had the opportunity to share a little advice with you – someone who leads a team. It’s one thing to know your weaknesses, but it’s an entirely different thing to have honest dialogue about your weaknesses with those who are impacted by it. These people already know what it is, we just dance around it never being truly honest with each other about it. I encourage you to take a step toward vulnerability and create an environment where honest conversations are had and the team is stronger because they’re helping each other be strong where they naturally struggle.
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