Be Careful What You Ask For
by Peter Block
Sorry We're Closed: Diary Of A Shutdown
Consultant Q & A
I think a more useful question to ask is, "How do we identify and deal with the issues that can cause any of us to choose disengagement?
For teams to be successful, individual members must each choose accountability for the success of the whole team in the context of their business. Each member must speak with the voice of the team. At the heart of doing this is choosing faith and hope in contributing to the team's success while forsaking fear and inertia or personally "getting ahead." It also requires doing this without bartering this choice and with no guarantee of success. In other words, first and foremost I must deal with myself.
Generally speaking each of us has a
"stance" about our experience in teams, organizations and
in life. Stance is a chosen belief about how things are
in my organization based on past experiences. We use
stance to project how things will be in the future. The
tendency is to project the future in one of three
We all have experiences that contribute to each of these stances. We all experience disappointment, needing to get ahead and creating worth. These experiences harden into a stance when we begin projecting the future based on selective memory of the past. Unfortunately in work the first two stances tend to be more attractive than the third. Depending on which one of these I choose, any number of issues can distract me from the choice of contribution. The best I can do is being conscious of my choice in facing circumstances that present themselves in my work. Only then can I begin to effectively engage others in confronting their respective choices.
The path to success for the team is the path of risk. We each must confront, with goodwill, others and their relationship to the team. This is personal and must be public. Conversation is the vehicle. Ideally this is best done before there is a difficult issue and in an ongoing manner. In these conversations we must disclose our doubts and reservations concerning our own contribution to the team, promises we want to make to the team, promises the team needs from us, and the consequences we willingly choose to endure if we do not fulfill the promises. This means we must stop using language as a tool for bartering, spinning, selling and manipulating. We must start using language for self-disclosure, telling the truth, extending goodwill and supporting the points of view of others. This is teamwork.
Try this activity with your team. Convene a team meeting and sit so the others can see each member. In each round of this conversation, members speak one at a time and everyone takes a turn. In the first round I talk about the doubts and reservations I have about my own ability to contribute to the team's success. I then select other individuals to hear their doubts about me. Only those selected may contribute-it is my responsibility to seek an accurate picture of my participation.
In the second round I make promises to the team for both results I will achieve and the way I will engage others on the team. My team members are responsible for speaking with the "voice of the team (business)" and together we negotiate my promises for some specified time period.
In the last round I talk about the consequences I choose to endure if I do not deliver on my promises. There may be an element of negotiating the reasonableness of these consequences with the team - fundamentally they are still mine to choose. I record my doubts, promises and consequences in a team journal along with those from the rest of the team. This makes them public to inform the team and others in the organization of our intention for contribution. This conversation is used effectively in an ongoing manner as well as at project initiation, or in other critical situations.
Forsaking "consensus decision making and teamwork" and becoming "individualistic" when something does not go their way or certain decisions are made are things of which we are all capable. Because of this, we are these "difficult people." Understanding this from the first person perspective, extending goodwill toward others in support of their understanding and using language for self-disclosure is the best we can do. Recognizing our own stance and changing the conversations we have in the team creates opportunities for each of us to choose how we will participate and what future we will create together. Individual ownership of the team and its work is the outcome.