Our Differences Can Make or Break Us

I have spent most of my life being part of teams and the same would be true for many of us. Whether it be a team in a work setting, a sports team or as part of a club or social group, I find the dynamics of interpersonal relationships fascinating.

As a team member, I would often be very quick to point out the flaws of the team or the system. I was never short of “helpful” suggestions to make things better and I would get frustrated when the team wasn’t working as well as I thought it should be.

As a team leader, I unsurprisingly had a different perspective. I began to understand that the leader often sees a fuller picture than team members and I remember times where I just wished my team members would close their mouths and stop criticizing whatever method or practice happened to be in the firing line that day. I mean, could they not see I was doing the best I could?

In recent years I have been working as a consultant going into organisations to analyse their team issues and help them improve the way they work together. I guess it’s not surprising the number of times I encounter teams struggling with the same issues, as we are all human after all.

How do you take a group of different personalities and make them gel as a team? How does the impulsive extravert with a need for excitement relate to the team member who likes security and wants to plan everything out in great detail? Or how does a manager with a quiet disposition lead the loud, argumentative team member that everyone feels on edge around? Team dynamics really are fascinating!

I was doing a one-to-one coaching session with a team member recently and I asked her to list off the things that motivated her. She quickly and enthusiastically rattled off four or five elements that she found really exciting in her job. As she said them, I thought to myself, “oh wow, I couldn’t think of anything worse”. I realised that the things that motivated her were actually stressors for me. I then asked her to list the things she finds stressful and, you guessed it, her stressors screamed challenge and fulfilment to me.

The very foundation of a person-centred team is built on the understanding that we are not all the same. We have different needs, different communication styles, different preferences and working methods. A canny team leader will use these differences to their advantage rather than letting those differences drive a team apart.

Here are three things you can do to take advantages of the diversity in your team…

  • Match tasks and roles to the team members they suit

Don’t ask your quiet introvert to dress up in a costume and lead a singing activity. That is most likely their worst nightmare! But if you were to ask them to organise the activity and invite everyone along, they would probably do that with ease. Find those tasks that are motivators to the individual.

  • Acknowledge the emotions of your teammates

So often I see teams who continually argue and can’t push past feeling “but I am right, and they are wrong”. You don’t need to agree on everything, but a person-centred team is able to acknowledge how their teammates feel. Phrases like “I can see this has upset you” or “I’m sorry you felt embarrassed” go a long way towards a healthy team environment.

  • Recognise that our differences make us stronger

It’s important to celebrate the differences in our teams. I’m so thankful when I find someone on my team who loves doing spreadsheets because it means I don’t have to! It takes all types to create a strong team.

JARROD KELLY
Consultant & Trainer
MCM
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