The PeopleCap Playbook

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Don’t Let Your Team Sink

image by mellin paulo bernardo
image by mellin paulo bernardo

How We Miss Each Other Based on Differing Interpretations of Shared Experiences

When I coach teams struggling to build trust and get on the same page, I’ve started asking a new question: “What is the pressure on you and where does it come from?”

Over time I’ve learned that in many types of relationships we miss each other, just barely, due to misinterpretation of a shared experience – like ships passing. It’s not typically due to a lack of effort or intention – most colleagues would really love to trust their teammates and work on a fully aligned team. Instead, what I witness as I work with teams is differing understandings of the same experiences or conversations based on each person’s vantage point that, when not brought to light, lead over time to deep rifts in how each party perceives the other. And further, that each person’s vantage point is not only influenced by their role on the team but also by the various pressures on them that drive and reinforce their perspective.

For example, at one company a team had been at odds for an extended period of time with a relatively new leader. It turns out that early in the hiring process the team had been told the role of the new leader would focus on business development and would not impact the way the team currently functioned. The leader had understood that he was brought on to change the way the entire group functioned as a strategy to expand the business.

Both groups had interpreted the same message filtered through their own lens and interests; the differing interpretations were at odds and created a fissure that kept the team on separate pages and butting up against one another for eighteen months. Without insight into the misunderstanding, they could not trust one another and identified the other side as the cause of the problem. Amazingly, once these two perspectives came to light, they could each see where the other side was coming from and how the situation had been created. It turns out, no one was “at fault” – they had missed each other without any ill intent.

I recently worked with another team that earnestly wanted to work well together and achieve their shared goals. They couldn’t seem to get past the “us vs. them” scenario. And I realized, “they’re just barely missing each other due to different interpretations of the situation and different sources of pressure that reinforce their misunderstanding.”

One side of the team was responsible for daily operations and management of the employees who had to carry out the vision. They heard from their employees regularly that what was “being sent down” from the corporate office was impossible to carry out – how the demands from corporate weren’t reality on the ground.

The corporate crew was pushing strategies and outcomes they knew “had to happen” to meet the demands of the CEO and the other corporate executives. Posing that critical and revealing question to the group helped them see that both parties live in different realities and interpret the objectives and actions of the other based on the expectations and stresses they respond to daily. Once they realized that they had unintentionally built a wall, they were able to set mutually agreed upon goals and develop strategies to manage the expectations and concerns of both their onsite team and the corporate leadership through commitment to a shared narrative and support for each other as a team. They began working as a team aligned around a shared vision and with commitment to one another to get the job done. They crafted a plan to better support the team on the ground and more effectively wrap their goals into the objectives of the corporate leaders.

The point? Look for the friction – those places where your team members seem to continually get frustrated by others. What is the vantage point or the differing perspectives that are causing people to miss one another? What are the pressures on each of those individuals or groups that continue to hold them firmly in their positions impeding their ability to hear the other side or move to a more aligned stance?

If you need help identifying where your team is missing one another or how to work through unproductive team dynamics, we can help coach your team to get on the same page.