I was working with a Tom a VP of Finance and his team. They were all very solid performers but they didn’t function as a team as well as they wanted to. I would sometimes sit in on meetings with them to try to pick up clues at the scene. We call this shadow coaching. The hope is the executive being coached or in this case his team, will kind of forget that the coach is present and interact as they normally do. This never totally happens but the coach almost always can catch a glimpse of something. Such was the case during several of the meetings I attended with Tom’s team. Tom was a work horse. He cranked out tons of good work. So did his team. However, they did not always see eye to eye on how certain things should be accomplished or what their priorities ought to be.
There were five team members on Tom’s staff, but only one of them, Rae ever took him on. Rae was not a big talker except when she thought Tom had lost his mind. That happened at least once in every meeting I attended. I knew from speaking to each of the team members individually that most of them had the same concerns as Rae. However, it was Rae to the rescue. Everybody else? Crickets. This was putting Rae in a difficult position with her boss. She was the only one complaining, so she must just be a malcontent, right? Of course not. When one person sees something usually others do as well. The others just weren’t talking about it. Just because we’re not talking about something doesn’t mean it’s not happening. I had a hypothesis as to why this dynamic was operating. I decided to ask Rae if she was the one who took on her parents growing up.
Here is how the conversation went:
RH-Yes, every time!”
CB– What about your siblings?”
RH– No, they never said much,
CB-Why do you suppose that was?”
RH-Because they knew I would say whatever needed to be said.
CB-Are you picking up on any similarities between your family dynamic and the team dynamic?
Rae kind of laughed at the obvious overlay. She got it. I told her that I noticed that whenever she got into it with Tom, her teammates all began to find something fascinating about their shoes. I asked her if she would consider holding back to see if anyone else would step up. She was growing weary of flattening her head against the Tom wall, so she agreed. When Rae stopped taking the fight to Tom at first others looked at her with a “what are you waiting for?” stare. Eventually, others began to share their concerns with him. That allowed everyone to say their piece and take their turn in the barrel. It also allowed Rae to spend some quality time outside the barrel.
Most of us have a tendency to do what we did in our families of origin in any group setting when we become adults. It feels natural to us because it is. This is known as replication. The other end of replication is rejection of former roles and behaviors. But both of these behaviors put us out on the poles. They remove the repertoire of behaviors that reside in the middle. They also take us out of choice. Consider choosing your behavior next time you feel compelled to react. It’s an effective way to challenge our self-beliefs and assumptions.