Leaders in today’s complex workplaces are discovering that getting followers together in teams to develop a common set of goals is not only difficult, but it is frequently divisive and disruptive. The leadership challenge, then, is to blend the varied individual perceptions and expectations into a unified vision.
The primary obstacles keeping followers from coming to a common understanding are most often the variances that exist between their individual attitudes toward outcomes. For example, Doers willingly share their viewpoints and eagerly discuss ideas in a team meeting.
Not so for the low producers, who are suspicious of open deliberations. They either keep quiet or do not respond truthfully in communal settings.
Another major stumbling block to collaboration is getting the under performers to accept their share of responsibility. When it comes to accountability, there are two types of followers: those who accept it and those who reject it.
If you are not watchful, the Doers will take on more responsibility because they thrive on it. Meanwhile the underachievers sit back and enjoy the benefits of someone else’s labor, thus driving them apart even further.
As these and other behavioral differences are uncovered, some leaders simply lay the blame on the underachievers and strive to have them replaced. But ridding the organization of nonperformers, even if it were possible, is not the answer. A better solution is to learn how to work with them.
First, it is important to try to understand some of the underlying reasons for their behavior. Beginning with childhood they were surrounded by authority figures constantly pointing out their faults. Thus, even a well-intentioned exploration of a problem will arouse their instinctive fear of being “found out” and “punished.” Or they may suspect that any team session is really a disguised attempt to fix the blame and to humiliate those at fault, in which case they may strongly resist self-disclosure in the presence of others.
Before these skeptics agree to participate in the information sharing process, they will need to appreciate the benefits of mutual discovery.
The more you study workplace behavior, the more you understand why so many followers have negative feelings toward teamwork. Collective decision-making reminds them of the dreaded school ground ritual known as “choosing sides.” As children, they would give up the chance to join in the game rather than run the risk of not being picked. The same is true when they enter the work force. Fear of rejection is stronger than their desire to participate.
The opposite is true for the Doers, for whom the opportunity to be part of the team outweighs the risk of rejection. If one team does not want them, they will find another that does. Doers view teams as positive places for learning about themselves and about others. They view peer disapproval as one of the natural outcomes of membership.
Achievers intentionally explore relationships to discover how the team perceives their contribution. If the view is negative, Doers will either work on self-improvement or try to change the team’s opinion. If that fails they will look for another place where their efforts will be recognized and appreciated.
Clearly, the gap between those who excel naturally and those who accept mediocrity is widening. The rising pressure to “do more with less” will spread the gap even further in the coming years. Closing that gap is a leadership responsibility.