In this series of guest posts, team performance expert Joe Slatter of Better Practice™ discusses the value and challenges of establishing “a common sense” within teams. The first in a three-part series, this post centers on how context impacts the perception of what’s “normal” between individuals and among teams.
Everyone knows certain things about how to get along in the world. We call it “common sense.” Why is it, then, that we see common sense stumble so often in the face of "the way it is?" How can one person's common sense be so easily misunderstood, disregarded or considered foreign by other equally sensible people?
What if we had a way to reconcile all those versions of normal and practical right up front; a way to lay it out and have a little fun with all of the differences? What if we had a way to quickly establish a common sense about the things that matter within a (new) team?
What if we could find a new normal we could share (at least for a little while)?
"Aber das ist nicht normal!" exclaimed my future brother-in-law after I explained a situation that arose at work. "But it is normal for me!" I replied, trying to explain how things worked where I came from.
Tom grew up in a small town in Germany that sits right on the border with The Netherlands. So close, in fact, that a local farmer has a barn that you can enter while in Germany, and exit a back door into The Netherlands! I, on the other hand, was raised just outside of a small town in Ohio near the southern edge of Lake Erie. In short, we didn't come from the same place.
We also didn't have a lot in common professionally. At the time, I was moving from country to country, supporting the launch of new wireless telecommunication carriers and other projects involving management information systems. Tom was living in Dresden, Germany with his wife, Doris, and worked for the government of Saxony. Together, they converted an old preschool building on a steep hillside into a beautiful modern house, where they now live with their two adorable children, my niece and nephew, Charlotte and Justus (pronounced something like "Youstoos").
You may be wondering how an introduction to the in-laws is relevant to the topic of team performance. Here's how:
What individuals consider normal and not normal matters. It matters a lot.
Tom and I struggled to understand one another because we didn't have a shared context. Some twenty years later we are still having the same conversation, albeit with mutual understanding built up with time and patience. The words have changed to “That is not normal to me.”
Let's say we are putting a team together for a 3-6 month project. We clearly don't have twenty years to get everyone on the same page. How, then, do we establish a common sense as quickly and effectively as possible? That new common sense would help minimize misunderstandings that build up over time; those pesky disconnects that combine and compound on one another to strain relationships and drain performance.
Maybe we could avoid the problem by simply hiring people like ourselves. After all, even the smallest of disconnects can have an impact over time if allowed to persist, right? There are two problems with that:
- There are no people like ourselves, and even if there were…
- Surrounding yourself with people like you eliminates one of the most significant advantages to having a team to begin with.
Joe will discuss these two problems in detail in the next part of this series. Look forward to it!
About the Author
Joe Slatter is the Founder and Principal of Better Practice™, a management consulting and team performance firm based in Denver, Colorado specializing in remote and distributed team environments.
Joe believes that all teams can improve their performance by establishing a common sense and listening to each other. A musician at heart, his upbringing and work over the past twenty-five years across countries, languages, cultures and industries instilled a deep appreciation for the power of perspective and teamwork. Joe created Better Practice to help others quickly learn, apply and benefit from the lessons he has learned over time.
About Better Practice™
Better Practice offers a management and team performance model and services that help teams improve the way they improve. This results in a higher return on investments in people, process and technology that compounds over time.
Better Practice serves clients around the world. For more information visit www.betterpractice.com.
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