The following are a few truisms about people that may help you to NOT be the reason why your teammates lose heart or even lash out in frustration.
People as a Problem
Anyone with even a smattering of team experience has learned that treating people as a problematic subsystem to be fixed carries within it the seeds of its own failure. This is because it places you immediately into an adversarial mindset that includes the de-humanization of your teammates.
All people issues are made better or completely solved when people choose to change themselves in a way that focuses on the mission. Mission focus leaves little time other activities. Helping people move to a mindset that supports sustainment requires the helper to have influence over the moved. Influence occurs either by raw power, such as in an organizational chart, or by a continual display of competence. The former can effect a quick change in behavior or ultimate removal from the team. The latter is more permanent as it has a much better chance of effecting a change of heart.
The Sustainment Management Model views all the people in the organization as teammates in a team of teams. Within these team, all are encouraged to be leaders, regardless of their position in the organizational tree. In the model, leaders are focused on the mission and willing to take whatever time is needed to support the people around them with sincere praise, helpful critiques, and appropriate responses to their real needs. Leaders take the time to learn competence and freely teach their skills to others.
Socrates is known for believing that things exist in the world around us as mere shadows or crude forms of the things they represent. Somewhere is the very chair of chairs, and somewhere there is the very best of intentions, but you won’t find this perfection where we live, only shadows of perfection. He also is famously quoted: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of wisdom”. Yet how can this happen when we look around at the world and see only shadows and not the real item? Today people would talk of limited perception, only five senses, or speak of the mysteries of quantum physics the way Socrates talked of shadows on a cave wall. Knowing this, the very best among us actively seek out feedback on their performance, sifting through the advice to find the gems they need to truly know themselves. This is a characteristic of leadership that should be encouraged.
Infused with Purpose
We think of ourselves as logical machines which can attack a problem in a serial, systematic fashion. In reality, we are hormone-driven pattern-matching machines with a tendency to get tired, irritated, and grouchy. The good news is that our passions can drive us past fatigue. We have an ability to view the problem at meta-levels and in-parallel as well as serial and asynchronous, which will lead us to better solutions. Passion can drive us to become experts at our niche and best exploit our strengths. Angry eruptions are a small price to pay.
Passion is essential for best performance. Passion kicks in when we care about the results. The purpose-driven person produces much more, and much better, than the dispirited or bored. For the sake of our egos, we would all love to be the hero in the current story. When victories seem rare, hollow, or unimportant, our egos get damaged. We begin to doubt ourselves. The well-documented “impostor syndrome” can find a home and we become even less effective.
Being Heard; Being Found Out
In the early 1980s I had the good fortune to work with Dr. C.C. Crawford, the creator of the Crawford Slip Method (CSM). The CSM helped him improve WWII wartime productivity by obtaining anonymous inputs from huge numbers of people at once. His basement workshop, his personal think tank as he called it, contained 3 ten-foot-long tables end-to-end. The 8-foot high walls were covered in shelves. The shelves held thousands of boxes each containing a thousand little slips of paper scribbled on by his workshop participants. One morning alone with him in his basement think tank, he gestured to the boxes on the walls and said: “Charles, do you know the number one problem I always get from the majority of workshop participants?” I shook my head “no”.
“They are not sure how to do their job and they are afraid to tell anyone this”.
Although all people have an innate desire to be heard and understood, this desire can be tamped down by impostor syndrome. The best leaders know that an unkind word, a blustery display of their own competence, or even the lack of a “thank you” can cause the next person to NOT contribute the very information that the team desperately needs to stay ahead of emerging failure modes.
A caring lady, who also happened to be an interior designer, was asked to help at the women’s homeless shelter here in Ogden some time ago. She designed and built small carts that contained various selections of curtains, bed sheets, bed spreads, and many other pieces and parts that, when combined, would create a unique environment for the homeless woman and her children. Each tiny room became unique by the efforts of the occupant. The result, the ladies and their children were happy beyond understanding. Why? The one thing each and every one of them had completely lost was any semblance of control over their lives. How much control are you helping your teammates to have?
Not everyone gets to grab the rudder of the ship of sustainment. “Empowerment” is not a holiday treat to distribute to all. But competence is. And it is essential that each person can see increased control over their lives as they increase their competence.
Each and every one of us has the story of ourselves playing in our minds. Sometimes the script is sabotaged by parents or other loved ones who have programmed us to tear ourselves down. Regardless, we are the protagonist in our story. Leaders can help shape how that story plays out by helping us have a more sane internal voice.
People will talk (all day long if you let them) about how “things need to change around here”. It is the extraordinary team member who can both accept another’s view of what that change looks like and knows that change starts with oneself.
The Plasticity of Body Schema
When I was a USAF pilot, I found it remarkable how I could pilot a small supersonic T-38 in the morning and a 300,000-pound lumbering KC-135 in the afternoon. As a pilot, you have the feel that you are the aircraft, even to the point of saying “ouch!” if a bird smacks your windscreen. Even more remarkable than this plasticity of our body schema, is the plasticity of our minds. If we need to learn new habits, take on a new attitude, or even develop more empathy. Humans have the unbounded power to do this. They only need the motivation and the belief that it is possible.
Modeling Correct Behavior
“Monkey see; monkey do” is the hopelessly insensitive phrase that my mother knew only too well. As kids, we would try anything we saw. The dirty secret is, this continues into adulthood, unconsciously and consciously. If we have a boss who flies off the handle, we might find ourselves yelling at our teammates. If we land in a new organization completely clueless, we seek out those that seem to know the ropes. Leaders put this to use by modeling correct behavior.
The Dreaded Job Number
Technical people especially, but all people, can be heavily influenced by timecards and job numbers.
Employees are repeatedly told that they can only charge hours to the activities they are assigned to and nothing else. You may even find auditors encouraging this black or white approach.
What is not said often enough is that some amount of “idle chitchat” or “water cooler talk” is actually essential to good sustainment. These are the situations where you find out things about your teammates that are not on their resume. How can you build an effective team if you don’t know what your teammates are capable of?
Along the same lines, opportunities for encouragement and celebration should be sought out. In addition, find ways to encourage teammates to break away from their desks and think outside the cubicle.
Obey the rules, but don’t allow timecards and job numbers to dominate the team’s thinking.