When leaders want to know how their team building is doing, they just need to listen to their teammates pass information down through the ranks.
In fact, there is a specific “tell” that comes down to the use of a single word.
It boils down to this: “We”, or “They”.
If your teammate uses “They”, as in, “THEY are asking us to do this”, or “THEY are putting in new policies and procedures”, or the even more telling “There THEY go again“, then your team building isn’t going very well.
On the contrary, if they are using “We”, as in “Here’s why WE need to do this“, or “WE need to operate under these new policies and procedures“, then you know you are making progress.
I bet you’re asking “is it really that simple“? In most cases, it is.
I’ll give you a real-life example. We bought a cable company back in 2003 that had been part of a much larger company. The folks in the field were used to having things dictated to them from “corporate” – the main office that was thousands of miles away.
So, when we came in as the new “corporate”, and started to make changes, guess how they were passed down by the field folks?
“THEY are changing this”. In this instance, “They” really meant “those no names from a faraway place that I have absolutely no connecton with, or care to have a connection with, because the no names don’t care to connect with me”.
I’d literally be standing in the same room with the field supervisors as those words came from their mouths (actually, in one or two cases the supervisor would literally point at me when he said it).
We knew we had to build better connections – the “we” had to extend down to the very last teammate down the line.
And personally, I knew I wouldn’t be successful until I could stand in a room and hear other people consistently use the word “we”.
Of course, I had to start with myself. The “least important word” in a leadership context, the “I”, needed to come out of my vocabulary, and be replaced by “we”.
We had to preach teamwork, and collaboration – and do it ourselves. We had to put context on all of our decisions, and answer the “why” question for our teammates. We had to physically show up in the field and establish better connective tissue between the field and the corporate office.
We had to be more human, replacing the all-inclusive “corporate” moniker with names, faces, and personalities.
And then, finally, we had to simply call out and correct all those who used “they”. I did that very thing many times, over and over, until it sunk in.
Did this all work? Did we have a better team because we paid attention to the “tell”, and the “they” virtually disappeared?
Yes. And, we built a more successful company.
Just because of the most important word, “we”?
Yes, WE did.
(Image by Bigstock)