Working as a Team with Conflicting Personalities

Personalities are part of what makes each of us an individual, defining how we generally process events and how we react to that information. Personalities might be similar, and a behavior that we've seen somewhere before can make it easy to jump to conclusions -- bad or good. It's always important to remember that individual personalities vary and that judging and pigeonholing someone is a sure way to either grow to disdain them or be disdained yourself.

As social animals, we come up against people we love, hate and feel ambivalent towards every day and in every situation. While it's obviously easier and feels better to surround yourself by people that you enjoy being around it's not always possible. In a work environment, it's rarely possible, so it's important to have a toolkit on how to handle people that you just don't care to be around so you don't lose productivity, the respect of your colleagues (or managers) or just your cool.

When you're stuck with that person who just drives your crazy, remind yourself of the temporariness of the situation and examine it for what truly gets under your skin. Is it a specific thing you can politely, subtly, non-passive aggressively communicate to your colleague? Are they very loud when you prefer a quieter atmosphere? Are they prone to saying things that make you feel uncomfortable? Do they shirk duties or prefer a different work schedule?

Barring a situation of abusiveness or harassment, the best first step you can take is to breath and analyze what's happening. If it stopped, would you feel better? Is it something you feel comfortable mentioning? If the answer is yes to both of those things, than say something.

Before you say something, again take a breath and consider your resources in your team or environment. Is there someone you know who won't judge you or might have insight that could help? If you feel that they can be in your confidence, then ask to set up a time to talk. Get their input, make a plan, feel confident in yourself and your next steps.

If the stars align and you think talking would help, ask the person you don't along with to meet up for coffee or have a quick 15 minute meeting as soon as they are able. Don't write it out, don't do it in front of people -- set a time to talk where no one feels defensive and if possible, there's an impartial third party who can help diffuse any tension.

If the stars don't align and you don't feel comfortable or that it would be productive to say anything, the most important thing to remember is to control what you can control. You won't always like what happens, but if you focus on what you can do and what you want to do things can become clearer and less stressful.

No matter what, remember communication is better than bottling your feelings and experiences -- but if communication can hurt you or your life, your happiness or your career, protect yourself before you do anything. Never put yourself in danger because someone else is unpleasant. Instead, document what happens and reach out to resources and your support network for advice.

Negativity as Tactic

Negativity is something that most people say they don't like. Negativity is also incredibly common. Why? 

Well, being negative is easy. Being negative means that you simply say no to what everyone else is working towards and proposing without adding anything to the equation. Being negative and focusing on the fearful is the quickest way to place yourself in the limelight without actually having substance behind your voice.

Everyone wants to sound like the smartest person in the room, from politicians running for the Presidency to your coworker whose gunning for that promotion. Behaving negatively means that one can sound smart and cautious when other ask people to look to the future and build. This is incredibly common in group settings and it's something a true leader and forward thinker avoids.

Where others focus on the downside, it's your job to build the upside and create positive alternatives and futures to whatever dilemma you and your comrades are facing.   

If you're working on a project and a team member seems to only ever list catastrophic problems that could potentially maybe one day possibly happen, take a step back before getting annoyed. Remember that this team member might have a few good, constructive points hidden in the negativity and you can find them by asking probing questions. Pull away the hysteria by asking them to quanitfy and specify their predictions of doom. Soon you'll find that what was impossible a few moments earlier was actually a comment on a weaker aspect of the project you're building together.

Doom and gloom is easy, constructive criticism and vision are hard. Be your best self and lead your colleagues away from negative excuses to positive events.

Using What You've Got

It's the biggest day of your life with only a few hours to spare before the project/performance/event/test that will define your life and career for the foreseeable future. And all of a sudden the bottom drops out. You lost your main investor, your voice is too shot to sing the solo or the zombie apocalypse inconveniently starts right before you take the stage. Whatever's happening, it's not good and you are starting to panic. Adrenaline courses through your body and your brain starts screaming that everything is falling down around you and it's just not going to work.

This might not be ideal for most people, but with the right kind of mindset this is a pretty great place to find yourself.

I'm a planner (sometimes obsessively so), but I am constantly working to incorporate and appreciate the unexpected into my life and my projects. When everything is known before it happens, life becomes a dull and drab march towards the inevitable (if you don't believe me, read a variety of philosophical and fictional works on the necessity of free will and the harshness of predetermined life). When surprise drops in on us, it's up to us whether we swing into contingency plans and improvisation or if we panic and crumble.

While it can seem appealing to fall apart when things get rough, it's so much more important to feel that panic and then let it go. Emotions are important and key to our shared humanity. But emotions can also hold you captive and force you to act without rational thought. When things start to go south and that dreadful, creeping feeling of failure comes upon you, it's important to remember that you should feel it -- but you shouldn't let it control you.   

When panic sets in, feel it and learn from it. Diagnose the pain point that pushed the adrenaline into your system, harness the nervous energy that's running through your veins and make your fear work for you. Your fear is important and instinctual. Your fear is telling you something key that you might be overlooking. But fear isn't smart. Fear is indiscriminate and it will cripple you if you let it. When panic sets in, feel it and then let it wash through you.

After your panic washes through you, take a look at what's happening. If you're lucky, the insurmountable from a moment ago is suddenly just an opportunity to grow and change with the times. You had a backup of that irreplaceable item, or someone can pull double duty behind the scenes. It's not always that simple to fix a plan that starts to pull apart at the seams, but it doesn't need to be if you accept that you might have to adjust things on the fly and that the unexpected breathes new life into the staid.

The most important thing you can do to be successful in the face of the unexpected, in my opinion at least, is to always think ahead and build out contingencies when you can. You aren't planning for the exact thing that could go wrong, but you are preparing yourself for the idea of change. You are practicing and building a process where things can evolve with their surroundings to stay fresh and relevant. It might seem counterintuitive, but a good plan always includes the idea of "going with the flow" so that you don't trap yourself in panic when your world rapidly changes. 

Nothing fun or important or innovative ever came from staying in your comfort zone, which are easy words to say and exhilarating words to live by.   

Unintentional Hiatus

Well, life is pretty different or me than it was just a few months ago -- which conincidentally was the last time I took to my blog.  With a career change (that has been utterly welcome and amazing) and a death in the family (that was unexpected and devastating), the world of MAK has been focused outside of blogging about bikes and management. 

My unintentional hiatus is coming to an end, however, and I'm planning on writing with more attention to the interests of anyone who happens to read my words. With the popularity of the bike term explainer post from September, I'm planning on writing more about my thoughts on bikes, the industry and gear. Outside of bikes, I'm hoping to tackle management theory, work experiences and how to succeed by really trying (and still set boundaries).

I leave this post with a picture of Chicago's Millenium Park gardens from last week that have a muted brilliance that I just adore. If you have any questions or requests, please send them my way.

Chicago in the Fall has the most beautiful color palette. 

Chicago in the Fall has the most beautiful color palette. 

Team Building and the Three C's

I attended the ICOVA (Illinois Conference of Volunteer Administrators) event this past August, which was a very interesting day full of conversation about recruitment and retention of volunteers. By far my favorite part of the day was the keynote speech by Rev. Fred Nettles, which touched on team building for any organization. 

Nettles, both a Reverend and secular non-profit administrator, was a great speaker (both content and charisma wise!) His talk covered a range of topics about volunteerism in general, but specifically delved into his thoughts on building an effective team in any organization.

Nettles shared his "Three C Rule for Building Teams" with the ICOVA attendees, detailing the importance of:

  1. Character: Compatibility of the organization's culture and mission with the potential team member's integrity.
  2. Competency: Positioning the team member for success and investing in good work through training and professional development.
  3. Charisma: Team members that get along!

Finding a group of people who can work together, feel inspired together and enjoy their time together is a pretty difficult task, but every organizational leader is asked to do it every day. While a lot of the time, a leader isn't given the option of building their own team -- they inherit people who may or may not fit into the leader's ideal organizational vision -- that doesn't mean managers and leaders can't build a team using Nettles' "Three C's."

If you can't change the team, it's important to clearly change the culture of the organization for your team. Create easily shared and spotted physical artifacts that represent the culture you want to create in your organization. If your company is all about integrity, share stories of employees who showed integrity via social media, intranets and blogs. Honor those people or highlight those actions you want others to imitate through specific and branded actions.

As for competency, make sure you know what people are best suited to do in your organization and help them grow and develop professionally when possible. Take stock of your needs and your assets!

Lastly, if your team doesn't get along try to understand why before you take any actions. If you have a real jerk in your organization, they may be enough of a Debbie Downer to prevent everyone else from feeling happy or successful. They may also be a key player in the organization that you don't want to let go. The trick here is making everyone feel heard and adjusting the team dynamics so the Debbie Downer isn't hurting the productivty and morale of everyone else on the team. You could do this by giving them a lateral promotion that moves them out of constant contact with the team or by asking them to adjust their behavior. Or you can do both or neither!

Above all, the Three C's are powerful because they give a leader a jumping off point. They aren't the end all and be all, but they are a simple and easy way to build your team, either through hiring people or through developing your most prized assets (your current employees!).