Here is what I mean.
Teams have a purpose. Usually their purpose is to collaborate to achieve a common goal. To achieve the goal typically requires overcoming challenges, breaking through status-quo barriers, and raising the bar to levels of higher performance not yet attained by the team.
The Team Continuum
Now let’s look at the continuum of team behaviour.
On one side of the continuum you have the destructive team. This team is so combative and has so much animosity towards one another that decisions get made which nobody buys into. Self-esteem is destroyed, individuals underperform, and effectiveness suffers as a result.
On the other side of the continuum is the Too-Polite-Team. This team is so kind and gentle with one another that decisions get made which nobody buys into. Personal comfort is maintained, status quo persists, and effectiveness suffers as a result.
The only difference between the two teams is this: The destructive team talks too loudly at each other about results, and the Too-Polite-Team doesn’t talk at all about results. In either scenario, nobody is listening and nobody is being challenged to higher levels of success and performance.
Watch what happens when the Too-Polite-Team pursues their too-polite path.
- Ideas are generated by the team.
- Ideas are not challenged. Everyone just loves that people are coming up with stuff.
- By not challenging the ideas, the ideas are not elevated to higher quality.
- Lower quality ideas get implemented.
- People go on their merry way doing what they do. If they make a mistake, it’s ok, because nobody is going to say anything. They’re just too polite.
- Since nobody is saying anything, people start to get lackadaisical. They aren’t pushing their own capabilities, so their capabilities get stale.
- Results start to suffer.
- Employees start to wonder who’s leading the joint.
- Employees start to get frustrated.
- Frustration turns to resentment.
- Resentment turns to poor morale. Poor morale is a challenge for the Too-Polite-Team.
- The Too-Polite-Team isn’t used to challenge. They sit staring at one another afraid to point the finger.
- Poor morale turns to aggressive behaviour and turnover.
- Skills and knowledge are lost.
- Results suffer more.
What is the Too-Polite-Team suffering from?
The Too-Polite-Team is usually made up of a personality type that avoids confrontation and conflict. There is a deep-seeded belief held by half the population of the world. The belief is that confrontation and conflict are bad, and must be suppressed so that people can live in harmony.
The other half of the population have a very different belief, which is that confrontation and conflict are productive and a natural human state that should not be suppressed.
The Too-Polite-Team is suffering from deferred pain caused by suppressing the challenge up front. It comes down to this very basic principle:
When you challenge yourselves as a team, you attract support. When you stay in your comfort zone you attract challenge.
The Too-Polite-Team avoids challenging one another for fear that animosity and turmoil will surface. Sadly, animosity and turmoil are exactly what surfaces when you are a Too-Polite-Team.
Animosity and Turmoil are an energy. Like you learned in science, energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change form. The Too-Polite-Team simply postpones the turmoil by suppressing it up front. Eventually, however, it must come out.
How to treat Too-Polite Syndrome
So what can you do about it?
The answer lies in the middle. Teams must be willing to challenge one another to reach higher levels of performance and success without destroying one another's self-esteem and self-worth. This requires an assertive energy. One that is neither aggressive, nor passive.
Simply put, you must:
- Balance the make-up of the team with those who like confrontation and those who like harmony. Make it clear to all that both styles are desired and necessary, while keeping in mind that as far as personality goes, this will be the one area of contention that will be strongest in the team. The natural tension will keep aggressive and passive personalities in check. It will allow assertive energy to flourish if nurtured properly.
- Be straightforward. Tell it like it is. If a result is suffering, make sure everyone on the team knows about it, and enable the team to call one another out. This is the first introduction of challenge that will keep more significant challenges from flaring up later on.
- Be equal parts cynical and supportive. Ask tough questions, and dig deep. Call out what you see and what you don’t see. Raise new awareness by not just believing everything you hear. But also know when to back down.
- Be willing to play outside your comfort zone. If you’re a combative person, try practicing your skills at being less combative. If you’re a polite person, try confronting and challenging your peers. Your challenge in management is self-management. You must use the style demanded by the situation that will produce business results, not necessarily the style you are most comfortable with. If you come at it with the spirit of improvement, then improvement and success will follow.
- Be willing to push others outside their comfort zone. Remind your peers that there is no singular right way to be in a team. A team must allow for equal parts support and challenge. Call on your peers to step out of their comfort zone and aspire to be more multi-dimensional.