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What’s kicking your ass?


If you feel like your team is dysfunctional, uncooperative, toxic or broken, you’re not alone. Most corporate teams are not really teams; they are groups of people who show up Monday through Friday, work 8-9 hours a day, claim to be working towards a common goal, and say they want the same thing for the organization. But when you peel back the onion to learn what’s really on the team’s mind, you will find hurt feelings about how one person is treating another, open wounds from words said months prior, anger because information isn’t shared freely, frustration because others aren’t pulling their own weight, and feelings of under-appreciation because different ideas and perspectives aren’t being considered. And silence. Lots of silence. No one is speaking up about the real issues that are getting in the way of performance, engagement and culture. This is worth repeating: no one is speaking up about the real issues that are getting in the way of performance, engagement, and culture.

Over the last two years, our clients have asked us to help them more with team coaching, training and consulting. And through this work, we’ve discovered something: People aren’t speaking up about the real issues not because they don’t want to, but because they either a) don’t know how to do so in a way that will fix the situation or b) they don’t visualize a positive outcome from engaging in the conversation.

Let’s face it: these honest conversations are messy. So on a pros/cons list, the pro to not speaking up is the superficial feeling of harmony. It’s just easier to live with it. Here’s the con: the team suffers. The organization suffers. And we miss the opportunity to feel truly fulfilled and engaged in the work.

This is hard shit. Please accept my apology if I’ve offended you with this word, but sometimes a cuss word is exactly what’s needed to express the magnitude of the point (plus, I love saying “cuss word”). A leader recently told me, “I don’t see how emotions have any place in the work place.” My first thought was, tell that to my client whose wife is having health issues. But I get it; it’s hard to tell your boss, someone you admire and respect, that you’re completely exhausted from working your ass off. It’s hard to tell your peer that they aren’t holding up their end of the project and it’s creating undue stress on your “work/life balance” (whatever that means). It’s hard to tell the CEO of the company “I’m not digging this vision or the goals.”

And yet, just imagine for a second that we could find a way to surface the real issues by having these conversations. Literally try to imagine what the result could be. Do you see it? Sure, it’s messy, awkward, and vulnerable. But look beyond that. What do you see after that? Here’s what we see:  new growth, renewed commitment, more skip in the team’s step, closer relationships, bigger smiles, relief, less stress, more motivation.

Are you familiar with the word “kintsugi”? Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery using lacquer mixed with powdered gold or silver. The philosophy of kintsugi is that breakage and repair are part of the history of an object rather that something to hide or disguise. If your team is the broken pottery, think of these honest conversations as the lacquer. Have the courage to address the real issues that hinder performance, engagement, and culture. Make these dialogues a part of the team’s history, and you’ll be talking in the future about how you kicked ass in reaching a potential never even imagined!

And keep leading.

PS – if you’re reading this, and want some help with surfacing the real issues, I’m happy to share some of the ideas from our TeamFORWARD offering that are making a difference (shoot me an email).

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