If you got to write your team’s report card, how would you score them?
A+: My teammates are brilliant, collaborative, and always have my back
B: My teammates are good people. They work hard and do their best
C- My teammates are just trying to survive. They keep their heads down.
F My teammates are making my life miserable. Get me out of here!
I find a lot of people working in (and tolerating) C- teams. I get frustrated when I see how complacent people are. Work takes up the majority of your waking hours, don’t you want something better than tolerable?
If I answer my own question honestly, it’s easy to see how you could come to expect so little of your team.
At some point, you’ve probably been a part of a nasty, loud, aggressive team and you’re relieved to be on a conflict averse team for a while.
Or you spent years on an immature, underprepared team and you’re just glad that your current team actually knows how the business works, even if they aren’t innovative.
Worse, maybe you crawled out under the desks to escape a passive-aggressive team and you’re thrilled to have a sojourn on a boring, harmonious, low value add team.
But wait! Just because your current team isn’t terrible, doesn’t mean you should be content!
It might feel like lowering your expectations will protect you from the bitter disappointment of another terrible team. But low expectations lead to low performance.
Low expectations lead to low performance. It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy.
Take the risk. Expect more from your team. Expect more from yourself. See what’s possible.
There are a few things that you should expect of your team that go beyond the basics of doing your job.
1. Connect as Humans
Nope, it’s definitely not required that members of a team like (or even really know) each other as humans. You can absolutely do your job without ever revealing anything personal.
But who wants to be on a team where you don’t give a damn about the people around the table and they don’t give a damn about you?
It’s more fun to come to work when you like your teammates. Gallup even showed that having a best friend at work is good for your engagement.
And if you don’t want to make friends just for friend’s sake, think about the benefits of strengthening your connection with your teammates. Human connection is the root of empathy and trust, which will both be important when your team gets into the really tough stuff.
One of the most effective teams I ever worked with used to take a one hour walk together before making their toughest decisions. It definitely made a noticeable difference when they had to start making millions of dollars in trade offs.
If you’re putting up with being nothing more than a job description to your teammates, your expectations are too low!
2. Do Meaningful Work
The vast majority of team members that I meet are remarkably tolerant of their teammates wasting their time. It’s seen as a given that your team will spend loads of time on trivial crap.
If your teammates (or your team leader) are wasting time on PowerPoint read-outs or data deep dives, suggest more valuable agenda items. Have the guts to question whether a conversation has gone on long enough. Reframe a question to focus on the stuff that really matters.
I hear endless squawking about how many hours people spend in meetings. Then when I sit in, I hear the presenter say, “I’m not going to read the slides,” right before reading the slides. And no one says a word. Really?
Use questions to focus your team on the stuff that really matters. “Before you start your presentation, what’s the most important thing you need from us? I want to make sure we spend our time on what you really need.”
Help your teammates use everyone’s time wisely.
3. Add Value for One Another
Does your team resemble the economics class in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off…heads on desks leaking puddles of drool?
That’s not ok.
If you need the input of your teammates, don’t let them shrug and nod through your discussion. Ask big open-ended questions to engage them. If you don’t get anything, start calling them out by name.
Don’t take it for granted that no one will read the pre-read you sent out. Put three questions on the cover page that you’d like people to come prepared to answer.
Start behaving as if your work matters and your teammates will too.
4. Behave Like Grown-ups
It is not okay for adults in the workplace to misbehave like petulant children. Name-calling, sulking, yelling, and whispering have no place in your team.
But you probably just roll your eyes and put up with it. WHY!?! You deserve to work on a team of grown-ups and if you don’t, you need to say something.
“I know you’re frustrated with Diane, but I’m not the one you should be talking to. How could you broach this topic with her?”
5. Work Through the Hard Stuff
I once helped a team that had developed what they called the “too hard pile.” These were issues that they knew needed to be resolved for the good of the business, but everyone knew they would be contentious, uncomfortable, divisive conversations.
So they just shelved them. The business was stuck because so many paths to progress were blocked by issues on the too hard pile.
You should expect your team to name and then resolve the issues holding you back. If they aren’t saying anything, you need to. “We haven’t come back to the topic of when we’re going to shut down the Alpha project. I think we need to discuss that.”
If I asked you to rate the quality of your team, what would you say? If your response would be “fine,” or “good,” ask yourself whether good is good enough.
Even if good is a big improvement over what it was before, there’s still room for improvement. Try expecting more of your team and they might just surprise you!
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