The Challenges of Togetherness

By Martin Haworth
Martin Haworth

stones, togetherness

For leaders, the world ever continues to challenge. One new skill requirement after another comes along for them to implement in their already busy days and they need all the help they can get.

Yet despite the vital need for a team to be fully with you as their leader, supporting goals, vision and deliverables, there’s a crocodile lurking in the waters of team effort that, in the hurly-burly of creating successful outcomes, is out to bite you. A hidden assassin who can appear unexpectedly unless you have the wherewithal to deal with something that already seems to be working well.

A top team is a fantastic resource to have at your disposal as a leader, yet there are forces that you need to understand, appreciate for what they are and then manoeuvre your way through. You’ve tackled the egos of your best players; you’ve invited in the quiet, thoughtful ones. You’ve managed meetings effectively and made sure as heck that the action points have been delivered in full, on time, as agreed.

However, what happens when your team are too compliant? What happens when you consistently work together as one and deliver outstanding results? What happens when you and your team are, put simply, TOO good? How can you fix that, indeed why should you?

So, I hear you saying, are you asking what we need to do differently in our well put-together, effective and efficient team?

That’s exactly it, for when you’re really rolling, working closely together and being super-successful, there's a potential blind spot.

Groupthink is a psychological way of thinking that happens when a group seeks to work closely and well together. It's a phenomenon that can, simply because of the strengths and trust within the team, lead to incorrect outcomes, often of the most disastrous type. In a March 2018 article in BA’s Business Life (see, I do read interesting things on my flights around the world!), seeks to understand why groupthink happens and how to deal with it.

The skinny on what leaders MUST do about this phenomenon is as follows:

Firstly, be aware it might be happening by assessing very objectively, how compliant your people are and why. How easily your team comes to conclusions and why. Be mindful of the subtleties of their agreement and how it can be masked by mock disapproval, yet still be compliant.

Secondly, make a priority of enabling, indeed demanding objections and disruption when decisions are made. As an aside, I was once a senior HR manager and found my role in the team was to be the awkward one, asking the tricky question (not least because the gung-ho team didn’t always think much about the legalities of what they proposed). Even - and maybe especially - when people annoy you, make sure they are the first on your team sheet. And, by the way, encourage them to stay that way, don’t work on psycho-tactics to make them ‘come around’ to your way. That will not serve you well. Appreciate the value they bring to the party and engage with them for that.

And finally, here’s a suggestion from the book I would not have thought of that I love! Divide your team into two and create competition to work separately to come up with solutions. Get them to argue their case hard and come to the best - perhaps uncomfortable - but the best, decisions.

Groupthink is a symptom of teams working well and being deeply respectful and considerate of each other. When tough decisions need to be made, this, frankly, isn’t good enough.

The best leaders do not seek an easy life. They seek a deeper, more successful and rounded solution to their work. Resulting in an excellent performance of the team as a whole, as well as the considerable development each member of the team experiences when the leader shows the way, uncomfortable at times as it is.

British Airways Business Life Magazine is available as hard copy on flights (always worth pinching a copy - I think they are free - if you didn’t get chance to read it!), or as a free app, in the app store for Apple products. I’m pretty sure you can get back copies.

‘The Communications Book: 44 Ideas for Better Conversations Every Day’, is due out April 5th by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschäppeler.