Resistance – we’ve all felt it. The inner response we experience when a third party says or does something that jars with us. A part of us is moved to push back – at which point our felt response typically becomes visible on a spectrum from the faintest change in complexion to ‘throwing our toys out of the pram’. Resistance can be healthy if surfaced and dealt with constructively. It can equally be destructive – hindering individuals and teams from performing at their best. So what is our best response to overcoming resistance and the behaviours that follow?
1. Replace judgment with curiosity
Firstly – it’s important to remember that each of us has only our unique life experience from which to draw inference and meaning. The way we interpret events that may take place in and around a team, for example, will therefore be as individual as our respective life stories to date: our brains have no other reference points.
- The first pointer is to suspend judgment about the meaning created by others in response to events and how this is showing up as body language and behaviour in a team. Replace it with respectful curiosity, starting with the possibility that it may be your interpretation that is most at variance with other team members’.
2. Review the team’s history, remit & membership
The roots of resistance run deep and can be amplified if we are being pushed to accept something before we have had the opportunity to process it. The time we each require for this will be as varied as we are unique. All too often, teams are set up with little or insufficient allowance for this. The pressure in many businesses to be seen to be making it happen and delivering results overrides the groundwork and periodic reviews that might otherwise make a team more efficient and effective.
Be prepared to revisit the source questions that explain the existence, operation and membership of a team. Revise the answers if necessary, in order to move forward:
- Why did the business establish this team and does it still need it?
- What is its remit or mandate?
- How does it fulfil that remit and measure its success?
- Who needs to be on the team for this to be achieved?
- When does it meet and is this aligned with other routines in the business?
- Where does it meet – both in physical and virtual terms – and does this facilitate its activity?
The result of step 2 can affect step 1, especially if some members joined the team at different times and so were not present when it was first established.
3. Ensure clear assignment of accountability
A common cause of frustration in teams is the absence of clear roles with associated accountabilities and responsibilities. Each role needs to be discrete and add value, and taken together they need to cover all the areas necessary to fulfil the remit of the team. The roles and structure that have got the team to this point may not be what is needed to move forward.
- Confirm, and if necessary clarify the role of each person in the context of the team, being very clear with each individual and other team members about what they are accountable for and the responsibilities they must ensure are properly discharged.
- Confirm whether existing members have the capabilities to fulfil these revised requirements. Be prepared to lose some team members and gain new ones and if this is necessary, ensure it is done respectfully.
4. Agree what matters commercially & behaviourally
Some of us will have been members of a team whose functioning has been undermined by the apparent refusal of one or more members to ‘play ball’ – for example, by repeatedly turning up late, talking over others or pushing their own agenda at the expense of others’ priorities.
- Agree and document what’s important to and for the team – both commercially and behaviourally, and how team members will respect, review and refine this over time. What are the values that will guide the team in its work, the beliefs that its members subscribe to and the behaviours they will expect of each other?
- Agree what will be the consequences of non-adherence.
5. Construct visible measures of team performance
Finally, and borrowing directly from Franklin Covey*, it seems to be a characteristic of human nature that we all play differently when we keep score. That bit of added performance pressure changes the game, focuses minds and importantly, creates a sense of mutual accountability amongst team members.
- Create a dashboard of the key measures of team performance and review it regularly*
This is not an exhaustive list – rather it is a thought-starter from which you can refine your own approach to diagnosing and managing resistance in the workplace.
Teams are similar to businesses insofar as they need to evolve to keep pace with changes in their operating environment. Source issues that prompt resistance in teams can surface when their remit, membership and ways of working are overdue for review and refreshment, or when they are set up in a hasty response to everyday pressures. Often, a little more time up front or in review will pay rich dividends to the benefit of all.
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* For further detail about FranklinCovey’s work on the four disciplines of execution, please follow this link.