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When Talent Isn’t Enough for a Team

May 10, 2018

This week, while Alison Whitmire takes a week off from her blog, we welcome a guest blogger: our own Corrie Weikle*, Learning in Action’s Director of Training.



There were five minutes left on the clock. My ice hockey team was down 2-1 to move on to the national championship. It was the classic “Not enough time left, and my team is down by one point to get to the big game” story. You’ve heard it before. 

The bench where my team sat was a depressing place to be.

Having little emotional literacy at that point in my life, I’d say we were a bunch of doubt-filled, negative Nancy, glass half-empty miserable people. The stakes were high, stress was soaring, and we were consumed by our own risk-driven internal experiences.

If you’ve happened to take the EQ Profile and you recall the dimensions, you’d say my teammates and I were primarily negatively-oriented, and likely over-accessing many of our distressing feelings.  


The Breakdown in My Blind Spot 


Everything we had worked so hard for was on the line, and our ability to perform at our best was traded for sloppy mistakes and anxiety-induced inconsistent teamwork.

As a team captain, I was leading from a place of fear, risk, and disconnection. I couldn’t see beyond my own lens that I was applying to the situation.

I was focusing on a minuscule amount of all available information and accepting it as a truth. I didn’t have knowledge or skills in reading my teammates, and so I had zero awareness of the internal experience that they brought to this conflict with me. Above all, I didn’t think I had a choice in how to react to the situation or to my team members.  

 

 

I share this story because it is not unlike many of the workplace teams we work with and coach today.

A workplace team with tremendous talent, trying to accomplish big things in the world, and full of blind spots, can be derailed by the inability to successfully move through conflict and stress. A championship might not be on the line, but stakes are high for any business. The common denominator of sports teams and workplace teams? Micro, and sometimes macro, conflicts are the norm when it comes to working with other people, including the most talented of people.  

 

A Question of Cultivation

 

As coaches, we know there is no question that emotional intelligence is essential for overall team effectiveness. That story has been researched and told many times.

Instead of focusing on the team as a whole, I ask this question: How can emotional literacy and deep awareness of our own internal experience allow us to become a better teammate, coach, or leader?

And what is underneath that awareness? How does self-awareness of our default patterns cultivate connection and allow us to work in team environments more effectively?

These are a few possibilities I’ve learned from applying the lens of the EQ Profile to team conflict and stressors:

  • Seeking to understand our own internal experience means seeking a vocabulary to communicate our internal experience with those we are in relationship with. When others don’t understand us, it can be frustrating. Sharing a common vocabulary allows us to connect, communicate and focus on how we see the world with those we interact with.

I’ve heard countless stories from you, our coaches, about how the team you are working with repeatedly experiences shades of the same conflicts. When each team member gains the language to discuss the lens they see the world through, the results can be a game-changer.

With awareness, the team cultivates a new vocabulary to communicate their internal experience. Instead of focusing on the conflict itself, the conversation focuses on which teammates see risk vs. possibility in the situation. The team focuses on how anxiety or fear might be showing up for some, while others are feeling triggered with frustration.

Through communicating the lens we are applying, we move effectively through conflict and stay in relationship with our teammates.

  • Our lens and focus determine how we give and take feedback. Effective feedback cycles require trust. Giving and taking feedback is imperative for team success.

But what if our internal experience blind spots become behavioral? That can keep us from receiving the authentic feedback we need to be successful. Or what if our own focus on the contributions of others to the problem is keeping us from seeing our own role in it? This might propel us to provide feedback  to our team that appears shameless or unaware, as if our own stuff doesn’t stink.

Learning a deep understanding of our default patterns and where we are likely to focus under stress, helps us understand where we might be getting in our own way when it comes to giving and taking feedback.The bedrock of team effectiveness is trust. Awareness of our lens and focus cultivates opportunities to build trust, instead of unconsciously breaking that trust.

 

  • The more we understand our own world lens and default patterns, the more we can get curious and authentically connect with the other. Understanding ourselves means understanding how we were shaped in relationship at a very young age.

Self-awareness for me has been a challenging and rewarding exercise in empathy compassion, both for myself and for those I work with closely.

It took me many years to fully understand and internalize the relationship between self-awareness and empathy. The questions that drive this awareness for me now are “Why is it difficult for me to empathize in this situation? And what does that say about the lens I’m applying to the situation?”

The deeper our understanding of the nuances and drivers of our own internal experience, the more we can get curious and be intentional in empathizing and connecting with others in their internal experience.

Imagine a team leader who can shift the energy and conflict dynamic because they are able to feel their own distressing feelings, and then be with their teammates who are experiencing their own unique distressing feelings, too.

To finish the hockey game story, we lost the game. As I think back (with a lens of self-awareness, of course), it was a heart-wrenching loss. Not because we didn’t make it to the national championship, but because our own blind spots and lack of awareness kept us from working effectively together. We missed the opportunity to move through the challenges presented by the game. We got in our own way. Our talent wasn’t enough.

This story is a sliver of my overall athletic experiences in which I got in my own way because of my lack of self-awareness. If I had these awarenesses, I would have been on a completely different playing field. I would have been able to engage with my team in a connected, leader-driven way, instead of the disconnection, negative-orientation, and lack of compassion I brought instead.  

This experience was the catalyst that drove me to question how my lens determines and contributes to the outcomes of the teams I work with and for.

 

Has your lens and focus impacted your ability to work on a team effectively? Do you see this with the teams you coach? Has the lens of the EQ Profile helped you to engage differently with the teams you coach?

 

Join the conversation.

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*Corrie Weikle is Director of Training at Learning in Action, where she manages the training programs and courses, develops educational resources, as well as assists in business development.

 

P.S. Our 2018 training calendar is now set. Check out the entire course catalog or click on the link below for our two new Team Training courses launching soon.

Posted in: Assessment Tools|Coaching|Emotional Intelligence

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