Who is on your team?

November 26, 2018

I’ve had several conversations about the topic I’m covering with you today. The topic is about teams and knowing who is on your TEAM and who is on YOUR team. During our lives, we have many opportunities to participate on teams. Sometimes we are formal leaders of departments or functions, leading committees or chairing boards. Other times, we are members of those teams, committees or boards.

In all those instances, it can be shocking when someone you thought was a trusted leader, colleague or subordinate exhibits behavior that is detrimental to the team. It is even more shocking and disturbing when that behavior is targeted specifically towards you. Today, we will discuss the difference between a TEAM and your VILLAGE, the importance of awareness and the hidden biases that hinder awareness, and, lastly, some tips on how to respond when someone you thought was in your corner is not. You cannot change other people, but managing your response will keep you on the path you have chosen without unnecessary detours. That is the goal!


Let’s start with the difference between a Team and a Village. A TEAM is “a number of persons associated together in work or activity (Merriam-Webster).” A VILLAGE is “a small community locally driven and responsive, with a mix of ages, backgrounds, incomes, etc. (various dictionary and sociological definitions).” In other words, a Team comes together for a certain focus that is somewhat outside of the individual team member’s goals or desires. Note the saying, “There is no ‘I’ in team.” A Village collectively supports the welfare of the individuals in the community, akin to the African and Native American Proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Your Village is that community of folks who support you and lift you up. Who praise your success, yet call you on your crap. In this community, you contribute as much as you gather. Success—as well as good mental health—is quite difficult without a strong Village. Villages are intimate and caring. Members of your Village love you because you are YOU. And you can and should have personal and professional Villages.

Teams are individuals with individual goals and agendas who gather or have been put together for an overarching purpose. Buy-in to the overarching goal is not guaranteed nor is it always a criterion for selection. Skills may widely vary. Personality, integrity, energy and intellect may also widely vary. While that also exists in your Village, in a Team these disparities significantly impact the overall achievement of the goal.

For a Team to be successful, it is important to be aware of individual differences so that they may be used as assets for the good of the goal. It is crucial to be aware of those whose oars may be in the water, but are dragging or rowing in a different direction. Think of a time when you were on a team, no matter the role, and found out at a most critical time that someone on the team or connected to the team was undermining the achievement of the goal. These are the folks that are on your TEAM but not on YOUR team. They are there because they are assigned. Or, in some cases, because you hired or promoted them. They may be supportive of the direction or the goal of the team. However, what happens outside of the team or participating in ensuring there is harmony or at least civility is not their concern. They will do what they need to do for the team as long as it continues to be aligned with what they want or need as an individual. Because of this self-focus, behaviors such as meetings outside of meetings or not meeting deadlines for activities not deemed relevant (despite team agreements), or “bad mouthing” the project or team to outsiders may occur. When did you notice it? Was it blatant behavior or covert activity? Were you surprised?

Depending on your work style, it may be more difficult to see or acknowledge this dissension. You could be so focused on getting to the goal that you ignore or just don’t see others’ lack of participation or blatant sabotage. You also may not see the strong support given by someone whose supporting tactics are blunt or cold in their directness. It is important to remember that everyone who is nice to you is not a supporter. And everyone who is challenging is not a dissenter.

Think of this example: When one is facilitating a group exercise or meeting, there are those who take lots of airtime, those who speak when they have something relevant to say, and those who sit back and don’t participate at all. Any number of people have talked about these personality types (see The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni). It is imperative to be observant of your team members’ behavior—what is said and what is NOT said. Someone who takes a great deal of airtime may be an expert and contributing in their sweet spot. They may also be a naysayer that talks longer and louder than anyone to ensure their opinion has the greatest weight. You need to discern which is true. The person who only speaks when they have something relevant to say may be your strongest and most observant member. Or they may be strategically planting seeds for their own agenda. The quiet person is the most challenging. They could be disengaged. They could be overwhelmed by the time-hog. They could have extremely critical information, but are not necessarily going to share if it is contrary to the direction the team is heading. Or, they may be plotting their overthrow!

Now, don’t panic. It is not necessary to become an expert in personality or body-language analysis. And there is no need to be paranoid about every team interaction. What is important is that you do not enter these situations with rose-colored glasses. For those of you with extensive experience and/or long tenure in your organizations, you already know who these folks are. In fact, you may have experienced their dissent before. For those of you who are new to your organization or team, “Trust but verify” should be your mantra. Don’t see a dissenter behind every comment, but be aware of potential hidden agendas. Here are some tips:

If you know you have people who take up lots of time, institute time limits on comments or have a “parliamentarian” that will ensure the team stays on topic. You can assign this role at the beginning to someone who has the courage to interrupt even the strongest personalities. That way everyone knows the role and is less likely to be offended.

For those who don’t participate, find a way to ask them what they are thinking. Use statements and questions like: “Ok, that makes sense, but I wonder what we could be missing? What do you think (insert name here)?” or the more direct, “You haven’t said anything (insert name here), what’s your perspective?”
Pay attention to the meetings after the meeting. You know, those meetings when additional “concerns” arise that undermine the project or process. You can see it and feel it in the next formal conversation. In that instance, use comments like, “Ok, something came up after the last meeting and we seem to be revisiting it, which will impact the timeline. Is there any additional information that the team needs to be aware of?”

Relationships are vital in teams to aid in awareness. Often, the sabotage or dissension is not about a direct desire to undermine, but rather a focus on self. These kinds of motives include survival, a fear of failure, a need for direct recognition, etc. If you really know the people on your team, you can determine when some of these issues may lead to detrimental behavior that impacts you, even if not directed at you. Having lead and served on many teams in my time, I have had numerous instances when team members supported and championed me. However, these same individuals, once given the floor, were quick to attack in the form of “concern for my wellbeing” because I “wasn’t acting myself,” or because I simply did not desire to kumbaya in the face of serious strategic challenges. Depending on who gave such an individual the airtime, the outcomes varied from nothing to additional undermining behavior, all in the spirit of concern for me. As I was knowledgeable about the particular individuals involved, I was not surprised. Irritated to the point of incredulity, yes, but not surprised. As the saying goes: “People will reveal themselves to you early. Believe them.” If individuals are supportive publicly yet quick to tear someone down behind the scenes, they will do so to anyone in any situation. You, nor your project, will be an exception.

So, you are aware of the opposition and in harmony. Now what? I would not suggest going into your next meeting with guns blazing (although there will be times when that may be necessary). You need to decide what the impact of this dissension will be and let that decision guide your response.

If the dissension will have a significant impact on the goal at hand or the reputation of the team or department, it must be addressed directly and quickly. That can be done one-on-one with the dissenter or in the team setting. You will have to feel that situation out based on your organization’s culture and the individuals involved.

If the dissent is directed squarely at you, your decision could be more emotional than strategic. While emotion can be helpful, it could undermine your ultimate goal. You must decide if the dissension could truly have a negative impact on your success or career progression. Utilize a trusted person in your Village (not your team) to discuss this and ensure you are seeing the situation clearly. Then, move accordingly. Again, it could be addressed in a one-on-one discussion or it could be as a team. You will need to make that call.

Note: In my personal example discussed above, these individuals to this day do not know that I know who they are and what they did because I deemed it unnecessary based on my ultimate goal. They will probably figure it out if they read this post, but that will be their burden to bear.

Now, in contrast, the folks that are on your TEAM, you have the people that are on YOUR team. What does that mean? Who are they? How do you find them?

I saw a great answer to those questions recently in the form of a documentary on Pelé, the famous Brazilian soccer player. In the film, you see Pelé’s Village. The people who are on HIS team. His childhood friends with whom he played in the streets. Who climbed rooftops with him to listen to the national team playing. Who encouraged him to play up to his skill even when it was far beyond their own. They were just as much interested in his success as they were their own – if not more so. They were proud of him. They knew he could “get out” and they wanted that for him.

On the other hand, when he started playing professionally, the team and coaches were more interested in him conforming. In getting him to play their way. He was different – looks, training, exposure and skill. And since all the player were focused on the TEAM, it didn’t matter the impact of their bullying or attempts change his style of play. The only thing that mattered was the TEAM and winning. Nothing more. So if he wasn’t “cutting it” someone else stepped in to get the job done. At times, helped along by playing “dirty.”

Eventually, through an interesting turn of events, he found people on HIS team that were also on the TEAM. These individuals not only saw his greatness but saw their ability to be their best when he was at his. They encouraged him to play his style of soccer – even, eventually, the team’s coach. And when he wasn’t playing like Pelé, they called him on it. They encouraged him. They supported him in private. They supported him in public. They were on HIS team.

It is the same with YOUR team. Who are the people who come to you and close the door to ask you what happened or how you are doing (with no hidden agenda)? Who are the people who congratulate you on a win and commiserate with you on a loss? And in that loss, point out if you were the cause of that loss – with L.O.V.E of course! Who is the person you immediately think of or from whom you seek counsel when things are a little “squirrely” in your world? These are the people who are on YOUR team. The people on YOUR team see your greatness, want to see your success as much as their own and are willing to walk the journey with you. They will call you on your crap. And they will defend you when you can’t defend yourself. Sometimes they are on our TEAM as well. Sometimes they part of your personal or professional Village. But you know who they are if you think about it and examine your relationships. Keep these folks close to you…they will be your light in the storm.

So, to wrap up:

We all have been surprised by the actions of an individual we trusted. If this hasn’t happened to you yet, keep living…your time is coming. However, when it does it isn’t the end of the world or the end of your career. You are a successful, intellectually agile leader. You will continue to be. These issues are simply the potholes along the way that you need to figure out how to avoid or fill so you can drive right over them without damaging your undercarriage or cracking a rim. Continue to show up as your strong, authentic self—confident in your skill, capability, direction, and intent. Be aware of those around you and their intent. Don’t assume ill will, but don’t let naiveté cloud your judgment. Lean on YOUR team—they have your back! They will tell you the unfiltered truth. Remember, you don’t know what people are going through at home that will impact their professional performance and how they show up. Trust but verify. And above all, BE YOU!

If you are facing some of these challenges and need to work through them, contact me on my website, laurelrutledge.com, and schedule a discovery call.

That’s the Rutledge Perspective ™. What have you done to find who is on YOUR team? What are some of your tips for handling dissenters on your TEAM?

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