Effective Teaming is an Unnatural Act

I remember when I first started leading consulting teams. I was disappointed in my team members; they had so few good ideas. It seemed I had to do all the deep thinking.

Boy was I wrong. I was unaware of my deeply engrained dysfunctional pattern.  I always had to have the right answer. I learned this as a child.  At dinner, whenever I out-argued my lawyer father I was rewarded with his admiration. I also was taught that the world was a dangerous place and the best way to survive was to outsmart everyone and emotions had no part. Needless to say, I learned to argue and always have the last word.

Since I did not have an owners manual for my brain, this lesson became habit. My fast reptilian brain (amygdala), designed to protect me from sabre tooth tigers on the savannah was pre-programed to fight at the first sign of danger.  Not-knowing was life threatening for me and fighting to be right, was my automatic response.  When out-arguing my team members, they either fled, froze or fought: not a good formula for positive synergy.  And it turns out that this is exactly why negative synergy is the default mode for teaming.

The good news; you can reprogram dysfunctional habits and the the right skills and processes can transform the negative synergy into positive.  We now have the research evidence to know what it takes. Ultimately you must engage in real conversation around content, explore all key facets, and enter into creative flow.  And at the same time, you must ensure psychological safety and maintain strong relationships. In todays workplace you must be able to do this in rapidly moving dynamic teams. And you must have the skills and process to team effectively with outside partners even when they do not possess the requisite skills.

Taking Action: You can begin by closely observing one of your key meetings. Were the outcomes worth the investment in time and people? Did the group create positive or negative synergy? Did everyone act from their best selves? Did they engage fully in the content?  Did they maintain psychological safety and strong relationships?  

Improvement begins when everyone appreciates that each person brings a unique perspective and complimentary skills.  They should understand  that working together with synergy is not natural.  Hence everyone must focus on listening deeply and acting from their Best-Self.

Posted by David Sherman

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