Teamwork feel more like team-drama?

Most of us know what it feels like to be on a team that feels more like a high school locker room than a professional workplace. If you look back on those experiences, you probably feel certain of who or what the problem was. Here’s the problem with that: we don’t often know things, we usually assume them.

Our perspectives are stories.  Our stories are missed opportunity. However, when we look at our teams through StrengthsFinder and choose to get curious (instead of judgmental), we can transform our workplaces from a drama fest to a professional, goal-oriented workplace. In other words, you can unleash the vibe of your Tryb!

Take our friend, Tracy, for example. Here’s a snapshot of a typical day at work for her:

Tracy walked slowly down the hall, rarely making eye contact, checking her phone. Tracy rarely engaged people around the office in small talk except for a couple of her peers. Amongst the staff, the general opinion was that Tracy didn’t care, was arrogant and had her favorite clique. You were either in or you were out. Most felt they were out.

As Tracy walked through the building she felt people were avoiding her. She noticed Shara look up, frown, and stare at her computer. Across the room, Thomas was shuffling papers on a desk that looked like it should be on the tv show about hoarders. As she neared Marcus’s desk, she could hear a lively discussion taking place until they noticed her, at which point they abruptly halted the conversation and moved on.

As she reached the conference room, Tracy felt an overwhelming sense of frustration. She was there to roll out the new policy. She looked at her staff. The look on her face was emotionless as she asked everyone’s attention and began to mechanically walk through the major points of the policy.  She finished with three minutes to spare and asked if there were any questions. You could’ve heard a pin drop.

The meeting dispersed and Tracy hung back to check a couple emails on her phone. As she walked out of the room, the discussion at the coffee pot was intense.  What little she overheard, it was about the policy. When the group noticed Tracy, they smiled and the tone of voice changed dramatically as they walked away.

As Tracy settled back in her office, she stared out the window, disgusted with the current workplace culture. Why didn’t her team talk to her? Why did they not have a single question during the meeting, yet obviously had much to say amongst each other afterward?  She started thinking through the individuals on her staff.

  • First, there was Marcus. He was always in the middle of conversations. He was probably the one who started the conversation at the coffee pot. Does he ever actually work, or just stir people up and gossip all day? 
  • Then there’s Shara, who always looks frustrated or mad in meetings. She never says much or even speaks unless asked, probably because she’s just angry and here only for the pay check. She’s always in her own world.
  • What about Thomas? He seems to be engaged, although he’s such a slob. His desk, files, and thoughts in general seem to be a mess. When he does contribute, he delivers great ideas…provided you can piece them together into a workable plan everyone can actually understand.

At lunch, Marcus, Shara, and Thomas sat around the table discussing Tracy

  • “Well, that was another dictator meeting.” 
  • “Three minutes for questions while she stands there stone-faced? I’m not asking anything. I need my job!” 
  • “Tracy is such a witch!” 
  • “She walks around and talks to us like we’re peons while she doesn’t have a clue what’s really going on. She’s useless.” 
  • “Have you noticed when she does actually stop to talk to one of us, it’s very awkward, like she’s choking out the words to try to appear nice like she actually cares and wants to help? Whatever, Tracy! Just go back in your office and leave us alone. You’ll move on soon enough, just like all the others.”

As individuals, we all have our own filters or perspective that we use to form opinions.

We develop an opinion of everyone we meet all day, every day, and we do it in a matter of seconds based on extremely limited real facts.

For example, the guy on the bus with the dirty clothes and a stained baseball cap looks like a mechanic or factory employee and is actually an accountant that volunteers his time cleaning and rebuilding homes in the poorest section of town. The lady grocery shopping with 4 kids in the middle of the day must be a stay at home mom when actually she took the day off work to watch kids for a friend who’s having surgery and is out buying food to help with meals for the week.

We don’t know, we assume.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the team above to see what they might be missing.

Tracy has always been awkward in social situations. She’s always envied people like Marcus for their ability to easily hold conversations and communicate. She cares deeply about the people she works with and works hard to make sure they are all treated equally. She’s highly focused and responsible and known for making things happen.

Shara loves difficult and complex problems. She needs time to think through decisions. She prides herself on making the best decisions. She maintains a small group of friends and doesn’t find it comfortable to reach out, especially to a supervisor. Sometimes people perceive her slow responses and body language as being annoyed or lack of interest when it’s typically quite the opposite.

Thomas, though appearing messy, knows exactly where to find information. He prides himself on being a wealth of knowledge, ready to contribute whenever possible. He often spends time thinking deeply about the projects he’s assigned or other topics of interest. Being organized is a matter of knowing where to find things, and he does.

Marcus never met a stranger. He loves engaging others in conversation. He brings energy to the room and has always prided himself on cheering others up when they are down. He’s dabbled with writing and speaking. He excelled at front-line sales jobs he worked through high school and college, and works part time as a counselor at the shelter downtown.

Clearing up your stories is the start.

Capturing that clarity and viewing it as opportunity is where the real magic happens!

Here are just a few of the many opportunities on this team:

  • Tracy could leverage Marcus to help with team and office communication. Being as well connected as he is, he could help Tracy bring energy and conversation to meetings while keeping tabs on the pulse of the team.
  • Marcus could raise positive energy if he understood how hard Tracy worked to ensure everyone was treated equally. He could bridge the gap between staff and Tracy. Helping her communicate a vision for the team and achievements would go far in building team engagement.
  • Thomas is a valuable resource of information for the entire team. He would be a huge asset in brainstorming and planning sessions. The trick is asking him a few questions to help him get his knowledge and ideas out. Tracy could capitalize on this knowledge source by scheduling more time in meetings or offering prep materials beforehand.
  • Shara’s facial expressions and moments of silence are not frustration. They are actually her intensely concentrating, carefully considering all the possibilities and methodically searching for potential problems or issues to be avoided so decisions are of the highest quality. Simply providing time and encouraging questions would give Shara the space to brilliantly fine tune projects and plans, preventing expensive corrections along the way. Instead of assuming she’s frustrated, the team need simply ask.

Get curious about your team.

Seek to understand the Strengths each individual offers.  Consider the possibilities to leverage those Strengths. Move from story to fact to opportunity!

Need some data?

Gallup found worldwide employee engagement averaging at 13%. However, when their manager focuses on Strengths, engagement scores jump to 67%! They also find improvement in other major performance metrics including sales, profit, customer engagement, turnover, and safety.

Want to jump start the process of understanding team Strengths and Strengths Dynamics? StrengthsFinder is a great tool. Find someone knowledgeable about the tool and how to apply it (we’re one such someone!). Put it to work for your team. Stop the drama!

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