Loving your team
February 14, 2018

Loving your team, how can you do that as a leader?

By Paul Laughlin

On this most romantic of days, have your thoughts turned to how you could express loving your team? Happy Valentine’s Day to all our readers . However you celebrate today, I hope you can enjoy it & also have time to reflect.

Please don’t misunderstand the title of this post, I am not talking about romantic engagement with your team. In these days of greater awareness, about the importance of consent & power dynamics, I’d caution against such an involvement.

Rather, I mean how could you better express love, or appreciation, to your team? Despite not focussing on romantic relationships, I think there are lessons we can learn from them. Almost 33 years of married life have certainly taught me some lessons. I’m blessed to be married to a wonderful person, but what have I learned along the way?

3 of my life lessons, from ‘what makes a happy marriage‘, strike me as also relevant for team leaders. I hope such relational reflections help you lead even better.

Loving your team: Value differences

Many research studies over the years have shown that leaders tend to ‘reproduce after their own kind‘. By that, I mean they have an unconcious bias towards recruiting & favouring employees who are more like them. That’s one reason why, we’ve in the past, ended up with the ‘Anderson Androids‘ or ‘boards full of middle-aged white men‘.

So, the first lesson I would share, from my own marriage is to value your differences. If one of you is a ‘tidier’ and the other is not; or one interested in finances & the other bored stupid by them, that can help. Rather than thinking in terms of ‘irreconcilable differences‘, a mindset of complementary strengths, can make all the difference.

I would suggest this reads across to today’s Customer Insight teams. Our post on designing analytics teams, included a resource about the importance of diverse skillsets. I’ve also written for DataIQ’s blog, on the need to value diverse roles & personalities in Data Science teams.

When leading an insight team it can be all too easy to over emphasise your own background or the skills that interest you more. Why not think through a full set of roles & skillsets (using a competency framework), to see if others need to be recruited or encouraged.

Beyond the topic of diverse specialist skills/roles within a Data Science team, also consider different personalities. When sharing on the benefits of Strength Finders as a resource, we advocated individuals playing to their strengths. This includes introverts having quiet time to think, and extroverts having sharing times.

Whether you are working from Myers Briggs, Belbin or many other models for segmenting your people, do you value them? How are you meeting their diverse needs? How are you encouraging their greater potential for creativity & innovation, due to such diversity? Internal events where each person can share their thinking can be one way, but a diversity of formats works best.

Loving your team: Don’t take yourself too seriously

When Mrs Laughlin and I reflect on what has kept us together so long, very often our sense of humour is a key. Today on different TV chat shows they will also be interviewing couple who have been married for many years. If you listen their ‘secrets for success’, it’s surprising how often being able to laugh at each other is cited.

What about work and, if you are a leader or manager, your interactions with your team? Do you have a laugh? Can you make light of difficulties and raise morale by laughing at yourselves?

Now I recognise that comedy is a dangerous subject. One person’s hilarious joke can too easily be seen as inappropriate or even insulting by someone else. So, there is a need to tread carefully & self-deprecating humour (when not over done) can be the safest path.

That said, I think many leaders & businesses need to ‘burst the bubble‘ of over pompous seriousness. Much that happens in companies is very silly & funny. The much missed columns by Lucy Kellaway used to play testament, to how much management bull**** language, deserved to be laughed at. If leaders want their people to be more authentic, then seeing the funny side more can really help.

In recent years I have made the transition from not just speaking at events, but also chairing some of them. When I first did this, I learnt a great deal by watching what did not work for delegates. I saw too many chairpeople trying to establish their own expertise (at the risk of upstaging speakers), or be very serious (to show subject mattered). But, my own experience was that the number one thing delegates wanted at events was – not to be bored.

For that reason, I developed a style of joking with the audience & speakers. A little light-hearted ‘mickey taking‘ & ‘chat show host‘ joking went down very well with audiences. Better than I expected it to do. My learning point was… People don’t have enough fun at work, business can be too serious. So, I’d suggest you also laugh with your team & embrace the fact you are people not machines.

Although it is too easy to see ‘fun‘ activities as a waste of time. In the long run, the impact of morale & retention, often does more to improve team productivity than any number of process improvements.

Loving your team: Keep talking, even if you disagree

People need to feel heard. We are living in a time of information overload & attention deficit. Undivided attention, to truly listen to someone, so as to understand their perspective. That is, perhaps, the best way of expressing their value to you.

Many years ago, I had been managing a very difficult stakeholder. It seemed that everything I provided to him was not good enough. He was always requiring changes or suggesting improvement for my team. Finally the day came for me to leave that area & move on to a bigger role.

What really surprised me, was that of all the farewells & best wishes, his was the warmest. I finally came to see that he disagreed because he cared, because he saw me as worth his effort. In another context, I learnt that the opposite of faith, is often not doubt, but apathy. We do well to value the critics & skeptics in our lives.

To return to my marriage analogy. My wife & I often joke, that we heard, many years ago, some research that cited one of the strongest predictors of marriage tenure was ‘low-level bickering‘. I have seen it in many other happily married couples & it’s true for us. Arguing & debating, that stays at a friendly level, is actually very good for a relationship.

How can that read across to your team? Do you encourage a diversity of views? Do you provide time & space to debate what you should improve as a team, or implications of analysis?

I’d recommend trying this. One way of getting the real power, of what Nancy Kline calls a “Thinking Environment”, is to give everyone space to be heard. Resist the temptation to label any of your team as ‘difficult’ or ‘disruptive’. Rather, suspend that & really hear their concerns. Most of the time there is something to learn & something to value, even amidst some toxic waste.

Loving your team: What will you do today?

I hope those rambling musings were useful. I encourage you to now think of one action you will take as a result. We spend so much of our adult lives within a workplace, why not make it a more loving human experience.

What one thing could you start doing differently today, to express love (appreciation) to you team?

Happy Valentine’s Day, loving leaders.