ARTICLE 1 : “My Team Knows Each Other And They Understand Each Other”

There is an assumption that because we may know another person that we understand them. The truth is that we probably don’t. As human beings, we think we understand people because we make judgments about them. This judgment happens without conscious effort by us. We do it because it is a security mechanism.

There has been much research and books written about judgment. In her book Straight Talking, clinical psychologist Linda Blair explains that our primitive brain knows we need to make a quick decision about any given situation – so it uses judgment.

‘It only takes seven seconds to judge another person when we first meet them.’

The consequences of that judgment-making process can be unhelpful. There is a reasonable chance that our judgment works out to be incorrect. If that is the case, we will behave towards the other person based on a flawed, primitive reaction. We may judge that someone behaves in a particular way based on what they wear for example. We may perceive a certain appearance makes our judgment such that we immediately dislike the person.

That is not helpful when trying to create a high-performing team.

We shouldn’t strive to stop making judgments. After all, we have great difficulty in controlling our primitive brain, and we are designed to use that primitive part of our brain as a safety mechanism. However, we can manage what our judgment leads us to think or do. We do that by using skills and attributes associated with understanding people at a deeper level.

Because we have a ‘neo cortex’ or new brain, human beings have the ability to think about their judgments and what they feel. This objective, rational thinking, and consequent actions, if performed correctly, will make a huge difference to the way we respond to others we work with.

If you think about your team or others you have worked with, the team will nearly always know each other yet they don’t really understand each other. Just about everyone will know the colleagues in their team and probably in other teams, too. They will know where they live, if they catch a bus or train or cycle to work and so on. They may be aware of their home situation, the hobby they may have and even their favourite sport and team.

This basic knowledge of each colleague enables them to work together for the day and perhaps tolerate them for several hours. This means that people can be productive – to a point – and with a bit of luck will not have any disagreements. They could even have the opportunity to enjoy a social event or two at work or after work. Indeed, it can be the work social event which causes people to recognise that ‘he or she isn’t very sociable.’ We all enjoy a bit of enforced fun in the workplace – more about that later.

Mounting Pressure
In reality, at the workplace when people don’t see eye-to-eye, the pressure mounts. Pressure comes in many forms, some of which may be familiar to you and your team. There may be pressure from senior management for better performance, cuts in costs, increases in productivity, higher sales – the list goes on. This may manifest in verbal exchanges which at best are uncomfortable, at worse demanding or even threatening.

Often the pressure on the executive comes from an even more senior executive. This is then passed onto the team. Tempers fray. People who don’t understand how each colleague behaves under pressure will find working together an even bigger challenge.

The senior executive makes demands on the team which, in turn, passes pressure on to each individual. Cries of ‘you should try doing my job with the lack of help around here’ can be heard (metaphorically perhaps) around the office. Accusations of people not supporting each other and the business failing gets discussed.

People go home and complain to their family and friends (or the cat). Further pressure mounts with the homespun philosophy of ‘you do so much for that place – you should leave, then see how they would cope without you.’ As an individual you are now in the trap, not sure why the situation has got to this point. Colleagues at work become more introverted and those closest to you suggest you find a better job with nicer people.

The basic knowledge of colleagues is not enough to enable high performance. That knowledge is of no use whatsoever; it is inconsequential. Conflict begins to arise – at first it’s ‘just a bit of friction’ between two people. One person blames another for something not being done on time, a report perhaps or analysis of some information needed by another colleague. The friction is due to the two protagonists not understanding how to put their point across.