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A catalyzing sentence you can use today to shift your team

A recent study by Atlessen and Blomberg noted that 43% of workers say that “toxic” or “distrustful” co-workers are extremely detrimental to their team’s success.

Now that’s interesting!

The issue isn’t vision, strategy, tools, processes, or other systemic forces.

Nearly half the time the challenge to a team’s success has to do with the team’s assessment of themselves.

The team members make judgments of others as being “toxic” or not being “trustworthy”.

It’s likely they have plenty of observations to support these assessments.

It’s also possible that confirmation bias plays a role in those observations – ie: they’re actively looking for behaviors to label as toxic or untrustworthy.

It’s been my experience as a leadership coach that these conditions are often allowed to continue.

We develop “workarounds” for people we couldn’t reach alignment with easily.

We deny and tolerate the ineffective and joyless state of our team.

We work our way to completion with brute force and determination while silently thinking “surely, there must be a better way”.

This frame of mind is painful.

It’s also costly to people and the organization. Great work doesn’t happen in an environment of distrust and discomfort.

Try this: a single sentence solution

Imagine for a moment your next team meeting.

You – or someone else on the team – interrupts the squabbling or passive aggressiveness or disengagement by simply declaring:

“This isn’t working for me.”

Followed by silence. Or a short bit of context and description of what isn’t working said in a firm, professional voice.

It’s been my experience that a few different and mostly positive responses can arise from this statement.

  •   Agreement: “Yeah. This isn’t working for me either.”
  •   Willingness to collaborate or accommodate: “What would make this work better for you?”
  •   Interest: “Tell me more about that. What’s not working?”

In rare cases – perhaps where the environment is truly toxic – you may get the dreaded “so what, too bad for you” response.

Regardless of the specific outcome, the statement acts as a catalyst.

It interrupts the current pattern, allowing for change to emerge.

We don’t need to know the answer or the cure.

We just need to make it visible that the current state isn’t working.

Then we can bring our leadership skills to create new ways of being and doing, to create alignment and coordinated action, and to create mutual respect and trust.

And by the way, you don’t have to define your work environment as “toxic” to take this action.

It works just as well (perhaps even better) in situations with lower stakes.

Try it the next time you encounter friction with a boss, subordinate, or teammate. Or even with your family or friends.

It will take a bit of courageous leadership to declare “this isn’t working for me.”

Take that risk and let me know how it works.

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Ken Roseboom

Ken Roseboom is the President of Thinking Partners. He partners with leaders to increase impact, create aligned teams, and deliver better results. He leverages the Alignment process, assessment tools, expert coaching, and years of front line leadership experience to support his clients.