A problem-solving comment on Twitter recently gave me pause.
The writer said how much easier problem-solving is when people don’t “switch sides.”
“‘Taking sides’ on problem-solving teams. Interesting…and ripe for many problems,” I thought.
The primary cause for teams that are split into “sides” is, in all likelihood, the fact that they do not have a real, driving purpose and clear goals to unify them.
If they did, opposing sides would be unlikely to crop up, or it would be hard for the different “sides” to be sustained within the team.
A team’s shared and overriding purpose for existing – if strongly held by all – can be powerful enough to drive them over, around, or through any barriers or adversarial inclinations that threaten to split them, and prevent them from reaching their goal.
It brought back recollections of another dilemma that dogs many problem-solving teams.
It’s the me vs. we conflict and it can also block team progress, completely.
Here’s just one example of the me vs. we malady:
A few years ago I was working with a client to lead a team of about 45 people through a full-company self-assessment and improvement process. The team was comprised of seven subteams, each one focused on a specific part of the assessment.
After the initial training and team launch, six of the subteams were clipping along, getting their work done well, and enjoying (yes…it is possible!) the challenging, invigorating assessment experience and process.
The seventh subteam, however, was lagging, and clearly dragging.
I listened closely in their status meetings, trying to size up what was blocking their progress, and how we could get them caught up, and working as well as the other teams.
I realized one person in the troubled team never used the word, “we” in any circumstance relating to their shared goals, or the team.
Her focus was always on “me,” “I,” and “mine.”
At a subteam meeting one day, I decided to learn more about her way of thinking to see if I could turn things around for her and her group.
“What would it take for you to use the word ‘we?’” I asked her at some point in the discussion.
She stopped suddenly, surprised, even dazed, in a way.
The question was very simple, yet the discussion it led to turned out to be extremely valuable to her, and to the team she was on.
She hadn’t realized how much her participation on the team was half-hearted, uncommitted, in name only. It was as if she were standing on the edge of a pool, dressed for competition as part of the team, but she’d never jumped in…and maybe never intended to.
Or that her me vs. we perspective was hurting her work, that of her subteam, and of the full assessment team, too.
She’d thought she’d been playing her part, fulfilling her role, by getting her name on the team roster immediately, always being on time to team meetings, and consistently warming a seat. But that was about all.
The “What would it take for you to use the word ‘we?’” question led to some other realizations and breakthroughs for her and the team.
Soon, with a bit of reworking and commitment to their shared goals and team process, the once-troubled team started to develop traction, positive action, and to produce steady, solid results.
They ultimately finished their work very effectively…as I knew they could and would, eventually.
The full assessment team’s work was very successful…beyond their expectations…and up to mine.
They had to do the work to discover that they could.
Taking sides within a team, and a me/I/mine frame of mind show that a “team” is not yet a team…until they are united and driven by a common purpose and vision, as well as clear goals and team process.
The adversary you’re up against is, after all, often not so much another group, or point of view.
The real adversary? It’s the great consequences you share if you don’t figure out how to work together well to meet your shared purpose and goals.
And in any case, the most effective solution, when there are differences of opinion, often resides somewhere between the extremes that the two “sides” advocate.
So…again…find we, not just me, I and mine.
Review or refine and recommit to your shared purpose and goals.
By the way, if you’re wrestling now with a we vs. me challenge, or with different sides staring each other down on a team that’s not actually a team yet, know that you’re not alone.
Internal battles and ineffective processes affect many teams in business, government, sports, education and more.
If you know someone who may benefit from this story as they struggle with their own “my team is not really a team” challenge, please share this post with them.