Excellent results through team unity | Daily News
Leading your flock into greener pastures – Part 18

Excellent results through team unity

If leadership is the capacity to guide forward, a team will have leadership if all members guide forward, together. Take for example, the creation of a good piece of music. The conductor, as the leader of the group, first defines his own interpretation of the piece. Then at rehearsal, when he meets his colleagues, a process begins in which he remains open to enrich his vision with various ideas and contributions. Step by step, a group alchemy develops, as different changes and adaptations are included.

This gradual process progressively builds up to a final interpretation which has then become a co-creation, a shared accomplishment much richer than the conductor’s original vision, in which everyone feels proud and part of the final result.

Meaning

One of the key aspects of the good leadership approach lies in the creation of shared meaning amongst the group being led. Although this would seem like a very obvious and straightforward thing to do, it is done rather poorly in most organisations. Why is this and how can meaning be better shared?

To understand the challenge in developing shared meaning, it is important to initially understand just what is meant by “meaning”. The word “meaning” refers to the gist or essence of something or some situation. The word can also refer to the significance of something. From a leadership perspective, both of these meanings are important. Clearly leaders want others to get to the shared basic understanding of any given situation and to share the significance of that understanding in relation to how the group does what it does.

Context

To understand this better, let’s look at an example. Say you look through the window of a house and see a shabbily dressed man getting a child who looks about ten years old to inject him with a needle. You have just been told that there is a big drug problem in this neighbourhood. What meaning do you make of this situation? Given the recent context that has been established, you may well see this as a situation where an adult is involving a minor in the drug world. However, if a man walked past you, saw you looking disgustedly in the window and told you that the man was a diabetic then you may well change your interpretation of the situation.

The key word here is “context”. The context can be seen as the frame of reference in which interpretations are made and a context always exists. The key to developing shared meaning then lies in developing a shared context that can be readily applied in any given circumstance. If we are to develop shared meaning with those who we lead then we must create a shared context for them. This is where leaders often fall down. They neglect to consider the context and often do not know how to effectively create it.

The most effective way of creating a shared context lies in simplicity and consistency. The context has to be simple because it has to be easily remembered and easily applied. This is important because people are making interpretations constantly and simplicity allows people the opportunity have an easy reference point to which to come back. Consistency is about frequent reinforcement to ensure that the context sticks with people. Applied together, simplicity and consistency provide the basis to create a solid frame of reference leading to a shared context and greater shared meaning.

Team unity

When you are working together as a group, you need to help each other to understand each other’s thoughts. To better understand each other’s interpretations and meanings of the information that you’re sharing with each other, you and your colleagues have to be each other’s interpreter as well as your own interpreter!

You must see things in a new or different light. This activity helps to gain insights that enable you and your team to create new meanings that lead to better understandings of complex problems and better decision making.

Engaging leaders

You probably know someone who’s brilliant at engaging people, but you’re not sure quite why that person is so good. Well, the earlier instalment ‘Building the Foundations for Engaging People’ can help because it provides a clear understanding of how to engage your work colleagues and staff effectively.

This section adds to those foundations and provides you with two secrets of engaging leaders.

Being open to everything

‘Being open to everything’ means being open to the opinions, views, ideas, proposals, arguments and so on of the people you work with. Being open to others’ views doesn’t mean that you have to accept them, because you’re bound to have your own views. Instead, ‘being open’ means having an open, rather than a closed, mind: being willing to at least consider others’ views and opinions.

You can develop an open mind as follows:

Recognise that you’re not your thoughts: they’re simply expressions of what’s going on in your mind. You may be attached to some of them, but you don’t have to be! Value contrasting perspectives that your work colleagues may have towards a work issue. See work colleagues who are questioning or challenging your views or decisions as critical friends: almost all will be acting with good intentions because they want to improve an aspect ofwork. Give people space and time to express themselves.

Building strength through vulnerability

You may think that encouraging your work colleagues to express their views openly and honestly is risky, because they may put you on the spot and you may not be sure about how to respond. More specifically, you may feel more vulnerable encouraging a colleague to question, critique or even challenge your point of view because they may: (a) Highlight that you haven’t thoroughly thought through a decision, (b) Undermine your view. (c) Prove you wrong!

Get-together

I suggest that you to have the courage to invite colleagues to be open and honest in conversations with you - and each other - because: (a) Your role as a leader is to get to the right decision regarding awork issue or problem: you don’t have to come up with the answer yourself!

Only through encouraging your colleagues to:

(1) Share their ideas, suggestions and viewpoints, can you tap into their knowledge and expertise in, for example, solving complex problems.

(2) Question, critique and challenge your thinking, and that of their colleagues, can your team members develop their ability to improve how they think; and improving the quality of thinking leads to improved mutual understanding of work issues, better decisions, greater commitment and improved results.

Set example

By setting an example that you’re willing to have your views challenged and even proved wrong you can encourage your colleagues to take risks in expressing their views and have their own views challenged.

You develop self-confidence and are more able to have ‘difficult conversations’ by being put on the spot and coping with potentially or actually being embarrassed.

Thinking precedes action and having the right thoughts precedestaking the right action. Work with your colleagues to improve the quality of thinking, create shared meanings and common understandings about work issues and problems to enable you (and them) to act to solve problems and achieve the desired results for all concerned.

In another future instalment, we will try to discover how to be more vulnerable by coping with situations that you find embarrassing and threatening.

Creating shared meanings

As discussed in an earlier instalment, all employees expect their line manager to seek and listen to their views: they want to contribute to making decisions. It is a psychological factor.

As you can discover in the earlier section ‘Making work meaningful’, engaging members of your team can contribute a great deal to enhance mutual understanding and it is a great way of making work meaningful. Enhancing mutual understanding requires you and members of your team to create shared meanings: common and shared understanding about, for example, the causes of problems, the reasons for decisions, agreed actions and so on.

Creating shared meanings requires you and your work colleagues to do more than just be your own interpreters, however, so that you can clearly convey and explain your views. Creating shared meanings involves an activity or process which involves the following:

Interpreting together. This part of the process means helping each other to come to better understandings instead of imposing one’s thoughts, perspectives or interpretation on another person.

Striving to acquire understanding from each other’s perspectives as well as your own perspectives. This activity is more than just being empathetic and more than appreciating how another person is feeling about an issue: it involves opening up your mind to different and new perspectives.

Working together to help each other to understand each other’s thoughts. To better understand each other’s interpretations and meanings of the information that you’re sharingwith each other, you and your colleagues have to be each other’s’ interpreter as well as your own interpreter! Seeing things in a new or different light. This activity helps to gain insights that enable you and your team to create new meanings that lead to better understandings of complex problems and better decision making.

(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired company director with over 35 years’ experience in senior business management. Presently he is a business consultant, freelance newspaper columnist and a writer)


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