“In evaluating the health of any team, I need to look for states of connection and disconnection?” I asked.
Pablo nodded. “When you see a team in disarray, you will find disconnection. The team doesn’t go there intentionally, it goes there without thinking. Facing any dilemma, the team wants to remove the discomfort. The four typical responses of any team under stress is to fight, flight, freeze or appease. When they do, the group panics and fractures.”
“And the leader?” I asked.
“The inexperienced leader follows. In a meeting, you have seen it. A project is behind schedule because someone dropped the ball. Everyone knows who dropped the ball, but no one wants to call it out. People get defensive, engage in blaming behavior or avoid the subject altogether. There is silence, eyes look down. Then someone looks at the leader, who becomes the target for all eyes around the table. The body language clearly communicates that it is the leader who must save the team.”
“You said inexperienced, how so?” I prompted.
“The leader is being seduced,” Pablo replied. “The seduction is subtle, for the team is looking to be saved by the leader, but needs the leader to be complicit in the saving. And, the leader cannot resist the opportunity to be the savior. It is the hero incarnate. I know it sounds religious, but the mythology is there to illustrate the principle.”
“So, how does the leader prevent the seduction?” I looked sideways at Pablo.
“The team is attempting to put the issue squarely on the shoulders of the leader. The leader must resist and put the issue back on the team.”
“But you already described that the team is in panic, a state of fracture and disconnection?” I said.
“The leader must simply outlast the panic. The issue that has the potential to blow the group apart, has the same potential to weld the group together. It’s all about connection and disconnection.”
Wow…absolutely spot on and unfortunately, something I have seen in a team I am working with now. This post has inspired me to be even more courageous with my coaching of the leader and being present for when the moments of disconnection occur, so I can facilitate the situation more effectively.
Tom, the underlying issue you’re illustrating is this: if the team if fragmented it is usually due to disappointments and breaches of trust that are unresolved. When those cracks are identified and resolved, the team just naturally coalesces around the common purpose and team members reduce holding back. The process for doing so is outlined in Fixing Fractures [Amazon] in a user friendly, workable fashion.