I’m not talking about information related to the task and context, here, though that can damage a team. Withholding that sort of information is unacceptable, and probably pathological. I’m talking about a different sort of information: information about your internal state .
Let me tell you a story about a team I coached. They’d asked me to observe them solving a problem, help them see their process and offer advice. Ten minutes into the task things started to go awry.
The team was standing around a whiteboard, and had generated a list of possible solutions to the problem. They’d started filtering the options, testing them against the requirements of the assignment, adding notes as they went. As they eliminated options the guy with the marker, Jon, crossed off the options. Until he got to Harry’s idea. The board was getting crowded and when Harry’s idea didn’t pass the tests, Jon erased it.
Harry tilted his chin down. Then he crossed his arms over his chest, and took two steps back from the group. Everyone else was focused on the white board and didn’t notice as Harry withdrew.
When he didn’t rejoin the group within a few minutes, I approached him, touched his elbow and asked “What’s happening for you?”
“They rejected my idea,” he said. “Wiped it right off the board, like I’m nothing.”
(Notice that he equated rejecting his idea with rejecting him. Easy for us to say that’s not the case; you have to start where people are, not where you think they should be.)
“You have to tell the team,” I said.
He shook his head. ”No one is even notices that I’m not participating anymore.”
“All the more reason to let them know. They’re engrossed in the task, and they’re missing some important information about what’s happening to the team.”
Harry gave me a blank stare. “You are withholding information that the team needs to function well,” I explained. “They need to know that one of their members has just checked out. Will you tell them?”
He nodded, got the attention of the group, said his piece.
He was right, no one had noticed that he’d checked out, and that surprised everyone. Jon was surprised that his erasure had affected Harry so. But he didn’t try to talk Harry out of his feeling or get defensive. ”Gosh, Harry, ” he said, “I didn’t mean it that way.”
Harry rejoined the group.
This sort of thing happens all the time. One member of the team feels like he’s not being heard, or isn’t valued and withdraws. The rest of the group goes on, discusses, makes decisions, starts to act. The team is missing out on the intelligence, creativity and participation of that member. They won’t have his buy-in for decisions, and won’t have his full-hearted support for action. When situations like this aren’t handled, relationship fracture and drains away. When you’re part of team, you need to be willing to say what’s going on for you, so that the team stays healthy and connected.
I anticipate that at least one reader will judge Harry as thin skinned. Someone will assert that people need to “man up” and stop being so sensitive.
What I’ve noticed is that some people talk that way until they feel rejected ….and they they act pretty much the way Harry did (though sometime less grown up).