Common ground

story

One of the joys of being an athlete is telling stories.

From the everyday lessons and hilarious moments during training to epic fails and victories at races, as athletes we’re always ready to shoot the breeze about our experiences and listen to others recount their greatest hits.

These shared experiences render our differences irrelevant. Because of my athletic pursuits I’ve forged strong connections with people I would never have otherwise known. Had we met under different circumstances, we would never have connected on such a meaningful level.

Perhaps we would have been at odds on most issues and written each other off.

Endurance sports have taken me to so many venues where inevitably I meet people who share my passion. Facebook then enables us to look beyond the connection and realize the differences. Yet, our connection remains as long as there’s that passion and new stories to tell.

My recent dive into Crossfit has placed me among an amazing group of people who could be my sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, or even, dare I say, a grandkid or two.Yet, whether we’re in or out of the Box, our common love of CF breaks down generational walls, making room for everything truly important, like our distaste for burpees and thrusters.

The only time we ever diverge is when the rare 80’s tune is played to my obvious delight. \m/!

So, why doesn’t this work in the workplace? Too often factions form, controversy brews, and trouble breaks out.

This is the litmus test for shared passion and great team building.

When diverging personalities come together without a common ground, there’s potential for disaster. That’s when leaders need to act quickly to find a connection between people to build on. It can be done, but it takes hard work.

Some time ago I took over a team with a number of vacancies. Instead of merely filling these positions I created an overall strategy for building a stronger team that would connect on a deeper level than their jobs. When the team was assembled, I could tell it was successful from the outset. Lunch gatherings were as hilarious as they were instructive, conversations abounded, and the brainstorming fed a collective creativity that produced amazing ideas.

I built a team with the right people whose connection transcended the work we were doing.

Let’s face it, why would we spend our free time working out with or partying with people we didn’t connect with? Yet, so many people spend the better part of their week with strangers, and the less we have in common with them the harder it is.

As leaders it’s our responsibility to build teams, which means we must bring passion and connection into the picture before we do anything else. People will ignore a whole lot of differences between them when they are connected meaningfully. If all they have are their differences, then nature will take its course.

Step one is getting to know your people and writing down their traits, hobbies, and activities. Perhaps you could begin something extracurricular under the umbrella of your wellness program or as a conscious team building exercise. This doesn’t have to happen in secret. Your colleagues may even appreciate the effort and help out.

You must be a catalyst for change at work by drilling into what makes your people happy and resetting your team’s course, reminding them about their common passions. Along with this being great for business, it makes of one heck of a fun place to work.

The Swim

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The ultimate goal in a triathlon swim is efficiency.

Speed and power take a back seat to a well-positioned body slicing through the water. In fact, inefficient form turns power into a disadvantage. Poor body position creates too much drag and you end up swimming uphill, sapping your precious strength. Eventually you’ll finish, but you’ll face the rest of your race exhausted.

The best swimmers create little disruption in the water, aerodynamically working with the flow, not against.

When a challenging situation arises at work and you’re placed in a position to have a difficult conversation with someone, are you fighting the water or slicing through it?

Too often we fight the water by creating win/lose situations with employees. Face it, win/lose is lose/lose for a manager, because if we win, of course we did, we’re ‘The Boss.’

The key is efficiency.

There are many tools that help us swim more efficiently. Wetsuits make us buoyant, training makes us stronger, coaching points out our challenges and gives us a plan for improvement. Our most effective tools for efficiency in dealing with a challenging employee is the question, and of course, training and coaching.

You hear from someone that Dan called Fred a dumbass, so you ask Dan why he called Fred a dumbass. Putting Dan on the defensive creates the win/lose. It’s now you and Fred vs. Dan.

Instead, “Dan, why am I hearing you called Fred a dumbass?” kicks off a very different conversation.

By asking questions, you give your employee the benefit of the doubt while controlling the conversation. Control is key; once you lose it, you lose.

When you meet with your management training team, set up scenarios like the one above and do your best to have a complete question-based conversation with your challenging employee. Role play with your team to see how far you can go with your questioning on an issue.

Questions like:

  • Why am I hearing this?
  • How could this have happened?
  • Why would she say that?
  • How does this help our department?
  • How does this get us closer to our goal?
  • What do you propose we do about this?

Channel your inner Columbo to become a proficient questioner and you will become a stronger manager.