Wouldn’t it be great if every person you worked with was simply the best at what they do?
If they had all graduated first in their classes at school and had received awards and glowing letters of recommendation?
If they all had years of business experience and know-how, and were unflappable in the face of challenge?
If they had all come from generations of successful business people?
If they had no demands or distractions from family and could just concentrate on work all the time?
Aside from the potential egos of such a group of people, it’d be pretty interesting. It could be really great. But it’s pretty unrealistic.
Most teams are not made up of the best of the best. They’re made up of the best you could get and sometimes it’s a far cry from the best.
You may have star employees or colleagues among you but you probably also have a good number of folks who are pretty average. You may even have some folks who are not quite as good as you’d like.
This is most people’s reality. It happens on sports teams; it happens at work and pretty much anywhere you have a group of people who need to accomplish something together.
You’d think that, since this is a common reality for most people, we’d be pretty accepting of this and just go with it, but no.
What can often develop is some pretty negative talk, instead of figuring out how to make the best of what you’ve got.
Oh, how we love to complain.
There are times when I feel like, as a species, we are pretty much a bunch of complainers.
Especially when it comes to our coworkers or bosses.
It’s common sense that our organization is not made up of the best of the best. It would be a fluke if it were. We know that people are going to have their strengths and weaknesses.
But what do you think we give the most weight to? People’s weaknesses, of course.
That’s not a bad thing if it’s done in the right way. But so often, we wallow in the land of gossip, complaints and ill-mannered criticism.
Dwelling solely on people’s shortcomings will always develop a negative environment.
That is, unless you come up with ways to fix the problems. But that’s a lot harder than complaining.
There will always be weaknesses.
One of my kid’s hockey teams has had a hard year.
When tryouts happened several months ago, lots of kids came out and the coach took what he thought were the best of what he had available. The players were not the best of the best.
During the season, the team was plagued with injuries for several weeks (both players and coaches) and the weaknesses became more obvious. Despite the best efforts of the kids on the ice, the losses began to pile up.
And when you’re not winning, criticism finds its way into conversations like water through a hole in your ceiling on a rainy day.
There were pockets of conversations on the sidelines about how this kid or that one always made the same mistake. Or so and so is just not very good. Sometimes, it’d be the coaches who were the focus – “they needed to do this or that better”.
In case you’re not in the know about kids’ hockey, you can’t fire or trade players like in the big leagues. They’ve paid to be there. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got, at least until the season’s over.
To be fair, some of the suggestions were good. But the biggest problem was that no one wanted to bring those ideas to the coach. Why?
I think it’s because of the angle they were taking in their heads. It was all about the negative and they didn’t want to hurt his feelings. After all, he and all the coaches on the ice are volunteers.
So, as the weeks went on, not much changed except for an increase in the grumbling from the sidelines and a growing sense of hopelessness. Some people, looking ahead to next season, even began to think of taking their kid elsewhere. Personally, I felt that this would be a shame because they were a good group of kids who got along.
Something had to be done and it all boiled down to this…
Wait for it…
Before I tell you what happened, I want to remark about a couple of things:
1) How long the situation went on for before someone did something. It was literally months.
2) How simple the solution was. More on that in a minute.
I hope you’ve already made the leap from the story of my kid’s hockey team to your office environment because this sort of thing goes on at work all the time.
And this article isn’t about the office trouble-maker/ S*%t disturber at the office. It’s about your everyday co-workers (even bosses) who are out there trying to do their best.
But for some reason, they fall short.
Why? Because (our players/your colleagues/even you) are prone to doing the same things they’ve / you’ve always done unless there’s a plan to address the problem. And that starts with a difficult conversation.
Criticizing from the sidelines or promoting negativity won’t fix anything. It only makes things worse.
But here’s the thing…
That conversation is only difficult if you come at it as an angry, upset criticizer.
If you come into the room, guns blazing, talking about how frustrated you are about a lack of skill and abundance of mistakes, then you’re doomed.
The key is to realize that the fear of having those conversations can be minimized if you approach them from the right angle.
You need to focus on the fact that most people want to be the best they can be, and you can help them do that.
You need to use a genuine attitude of positivity so that the person will want to listen to you.
The biggest compliment someone can give you is to take the time and energy to show you how you can be better than you already are.
1) Begin your conversation with kind words and compliments. Focus on the good that has been happening (and you know there is some). Remember - none of this bad stuff has been done with mal-intent.
2) Next, share your frustration about the situation you’re all in and how you’d really like it to be better. See if you can get some agreement from them about the situation. Now you’re on the same page.
3) Ask the person if they’d mind hearing some ideas you have about improving, changing, or trying certain things. I bet they’ll say yes.
4) Have an adult discussion about which possible changes could be made and how to make them happen. If you can, offer to help, or suggest how to get them help
Do’s and Don’t’s
Remember that you all want the same thing – to be the best you can be.
Don’t worry if things don’t change overnight. Real change takes time. Keep your eye open for effort. You’ve opened up a door for positive dialogue. Things will only get better from here.
Oh ya, about the team…
In case you’re wondering what’s happened with the team, here’s the story. A couple of people talked to the assistant coach and let him know about some of the grumbling. He knew that the team was struggling, of course, but had no idea what was going on at the sidelines.
As soon as he heard about the concerns of the parents, he took it upon himself to have the difficult conversation with the coach.
The coach, of course, took it all in and the team has not had a loss in its last 7 games. Funnily enough, there’s more cheering than grumbling going on, at least for now.
"You truly have to make the very best of what you've got. We all do." - Mary Tyler Moore
As always I welcome your thought and comments.