If you want to know how powerful your team is, just see how team members deal with sensitive and tough topics.
Sensitive and tough topics are any subjects that require the leaders and team members to put their own personal feelings, egos, and agendas aside for the greater good of their company or team.
It could be anything as big as deciding which team to invest in, which team member to promote or re-allocating people and budgets from one leader’s team to another. It could be something as trivial as giving honest feedback to colleagues, your boss or subordinates about poor performance.
When it comes to sensitive and tough conversations the line between big and small topics becomes blurry because people often tend to take even the most insignificant topics personally, which leads to out of proportion reactions and behaviors.
In powerful teams, members never lose sight of the bigger picture. They put their team and company first and they always strive to do the right and the best thing for the collective cause.
In powerful teams, people don’t hold back their punches when it comes to discussing and debating the tough and sensitive topics. Teammates may fully ‘go at it’, push back and disagree with other team members, but they continue to listen to each other, consider each other’s views and they never cross the line of interacting in a disrespectful way.
At the end of the conversation or meeting when the team or their boss makes a decision all team members genuinely align, own and support the verdict, whether in their personal favor or not. When they go back to their respective teams they represent the decision as their own in a united front with their colleagues.
I have seen some great teams that exemplify this behavior. However, I have also seen many teams that don’t. I think it would be safe to say that most teams don’t do a great job in dealing with tough and sensitive topics.
Take for example the senior leadership team of a large technology company. The company experienced serious growing pains after achieving the best performance year in their entire history. As a result of their sudden surge of business, they simply couldn’t keep up with the demand. They were not set up for the next level of service and support.
Instead of coming together to find a solution and make the necessary changes to accommodate the growth the senior leaders blamed each other for the crisis. Finger pointing led to defensiveness and the hostility grew. There was even a traumatic screaming match in one of the leadership team meetings, which resulted in some leaders outright stopping to speak with other team members.
It took the leaders a long time to turn things around, and the process left internal and external scars. Key customers felt frustrated by the fact that the company didn’t deliver its obligations on time, and managers and employees felt frustrated about the petty and immature manner in which their leaders handled the crisis.
In a completely different example, the senior leadership team of the HR function of a large global company was having an honest discussion about the state of morale of their wider team, including how to motivate their staff after several rounds of company layoffs. The leaders invited a few next level managers to the meeting in order to describe the state of affairs, especially to their boss who they felt wasn’t as connected to the reality of her organization.
The managers were blunt. They painted a dire picture of HR managers and employees who felt uncared for, demoralized and disconnected from headquarter and the senior team.
The leader thanked the managers for their honest feedback, but when they left the room she turned to her leaders and scolded them for allowing their managers to feel and express such negative feelings and views. It was apparent to all that the head of HR took everything the managers said personally. Needless to say, the level of fear increased exponentially from that day on, and the ability of this senior team to discuss and address the real tough and sensitive issues decreased.
Let’s be honest, addressing the tough and sensitive issues in a productive, constructive and respectful manner (no matter what), takes leadership maturity and courage.
Unfortunately, too often there isn’t enough of these qualities even in the most senior teams.