Include ‘tell me first’ guideline in core values

Include ‘tell me first’ guideline in core values
Article appeared in Corridor Business Journal, Oct. 29 – Nov. 4, 2018

One of the cornerstone behaviors of a high performing cohesive team is peer-to-peer accountability. When a member believes that someone is not living up to team expectations, she goes directly to her colleague to discuss the behavior and work toward a positive resolution.

“Tell me first” demonstrates loyalty and respect among team members. We show that we value our colleagues when we bring issues and concerns directly to them, not tattling to the boss or gossiping about performance among co-workers.
So what are the dangers when we don’t practice engaging in tough conversations directly with one another on a team? Let’s assume that Mary goes to Frank’s boss because he is consistently late providing information to her making it impossible for her to meet her deadlines. Frank’s boss has not witnessed this behavior firsthand which makes it difficult for him to engage in a constructive conversation. After the conversation, Frank feels like there is a rat in his team. He is suspicious about who said something and he trusts no one.

Another option is that the team members do not involve the supervisor. When a team member is behaving poorly, they prefer to gossip and complain to one another. We all know this will eventually get back to Frank. This results in a host of negative team issues including silos, cliques, tension and anxiety, negativism, fear and a lack of open communication. This results in poor collaboration and lack of commitment.

I encourage teams to include “tell me first” in their core values or operating norms. Be explicit that you expect everyone to go directly to the person with whom they have the issue. Create motivation by discussing the positives of respecting the norm and the certain dysfunction that occurs when members fail to respect the guideline.

Next, building trust is imperative. The ability to be vulnerable, real and genuine among team members creates an environment where people know they can engage in these difficult conversations because they are respected and valued by their colleagues. We know we won’t be judged negatively for sharing our opinions and focusing on the best interests of the team.

One of the best ways to build trust is to practice being vulnerable. “I don’t know.” “I’m sorry.” “I need help.” “I think you have a better idea.” Get used to letting your guard down and showing some of your weaknesses. Another great way to build trust is to get to know one another’s strengths and weaknesses.
Using Gallup’s Strengths finder or a personality assessment like DiSC creates an awareness of differences and how each contributes positively, and sometimes negatively, to the team. I emphasize that team members need to search for what is right with what is different.

It is important for team members to receive training on how to engage in productive, constructive feedback conversations. At a basic level, always begin with an “I” statement. Starting with the word “you” often puts the other person on the defensive. Clearly state the behavior you observed in specific, factual terms. Let your team member know how her behavior is negatively impacting you and/or the team.

“Mary, for the past two weeks, I have received your input for the team project update two days late. I am frustrated because I struggle to get the report to leadership on time. When I’m late, I take the blame and that feels unfair to me.”

Get to the point as quickly as possible. Next, listen to the other side using verbal and non-verbal cues to show you care and truly understand. Then, manage your way to an agreement both of you can champion, looking for win-win solutions.

While the team leader is the ultimate arbiter of accountability in a team, he should not be the primary. Teams who hold each other accountable create productive, positive and collaborative work spaces. •