You just assigned your team a new project. Their enthusiasm is, well, remarkably luke-warm. How do you build a fire under them to get them behind the project? Here are four steps to kindle the flames of team commitment.
- Build trust.
Trust is the foundation for everything that is good and positive on a team. Without trust, nothing happens. When the topic of trust comes up, most people think of it in terms of, “I trust my coworker to get their job done, to hold up their commitment, to do their part.” That’s what we call “Predictive Trust.” In order for a team to become deeply committed to a project, trust must go deeper. It must be “Vulnerability-Based Trust.” This means I trust you enough to be able to say, “I screwed up” because I feel safe to be vulnerable. A team that has reached this level of safety and confidence in each other is ready to engage in healthy debate, the next step toward achieving commitment.
Take Action to Build Trust. As a team gets to know each other they trust each other more. Plan recurring events and activities that are specifically designed to help the team get to know each other better. These are not just touchy-feely time wasters. Their specific purpose is to lead to mutual trust. One of the four building blocks of emotional intelligence or emotional literacy, becoming socially aware, being more tuned in to what others are feeling and thinking, is enhanced by building trust through getting knowing each other better.
- Normalize Productive Conflict.
Conflict is simply two opposing forces.
The very best outcome for a project is forged through conflict. If everyone on your team agrees about everything, the results you achieve will be mediocre at best. Productive conflict occurs when a team feels the freedom to challenge the process. Individuals are uncomfortable with conflict because they don’t understand conflict, the difference between good and bad conflict, and how to handle it without escalating into something bad.
Take Action to Normalize Productive Conflict. The Emotionally Literate Leader begins by learning to be comfortable around healthy debate. The next step is to help the team understand what conflict is, the difference between destructive and Productive Conflict, and encouraging them to challenge the process by simply asking each other, “Why are we doing this?” And “Is there a better way?”
- Provide Clarity.
How often have you tried to explain something only to see the other person’s eyes glaze over? Or worse, by reading their body language you can see they aren’t at all excited about what you’re asking them to do. You might be tempted to write off their behavior as Slacker-genes (DNA, Not Denim) or Oppositional Defiant Disorder. The real problem might be that you have failed to present the big picture. You weren’t clear. Next time you need to rally the troops to commit to that big project, start with the end goal and be clear in your mind why this goal is so important. Then start where you are right now outlining all the steps required to get you from here to there. Diagram it on a dry-erase board. There is something about visually creating a path that makes it plain to see when you left out an important step in the process. Be very clear about your expectations. Don’t assume they can read your mind. Draw pictures if necessary. You don’t need to be an artist. Stick figures will do fine.
Take Action to Move Towards Clarity. Have a detailed picture in your head about what you want to achieve and clearly communicate your goals to your team. Ask them to tell you in their own words what they believe you’re trying to communicate. This will ensure clarity or reveal any confusion about the matter.
- Let them weigh in.
After clearly presenting the scope of the project, it’s time to use your very best listening skills. Invite them to get all their concerns on the table. Remind yourself ahead of time to just listen; don’t try to convince them to change their mind—that will just cause them to become entrenched. And they might come up with a better way. Instead listen, paraphrase, take notes, acknowledge their concerns and thank them for sharing. When you do this, you have allowed them to weigh in. When this happens it clears the way for buy-in.
Remember this principle: Weigh-in gets buy-in.
So get your team energized and committed to the project by telling them exactly what you need and allowing them time to express their misgivings. As simple as this seems, I’m amazed at how often team commitment sags because the leader just didn’t take the time to be clear, and to hear.
Take Action to Encourage Weigh In. Before introducing a new initiative or project, take the time to outline the process, starting with the goal, the “why” this goal is important. Anticipate your team’s misgivings and include that in part of your presentation. Then rehearse in your mind listening to their concerns. If you prepare your thoughts and rehearse your listening, you’ll find yourself with a team that is all in.
The Emotionally Literate Leader understands the process of getting full team commitment must begin with a foundation of trust, normalizing productive conflict, increasing clarity of purpose, and creating a forum where all members of the team can weigh in. The emotionally literate leader will also monitor his or her own emotions to avoid feeling attacked in this process, and when conflict begins to move from productive to destructive, will step in and mediate that conversation to refocus on the task.
Practicing these four principles with your team will deepen their level of commitment and move them toward effectiveness and productivity.
Tim Hast is an Authorized Partner with Wiley and Son’s The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team. He helps teams build trust, work through conflicts, deepen commitment, increase mutual accountability and refocus on results. Contact Tim: firstname.lastname@example.org
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