A colleague of mine recently joined the Board of Directors of a favorite non-profit with much enthusiasm, only to discover how much drama was going on behind the scenes among the Board members. She has found herself in the middle of one of the top issues that diminish team effectiveness – “the undiscussables.” The stories she has shared with me are very similar to those I have heard over and over in my practice from CEO clients about issues within their teams. A lot of money and time gets spent creating what appears to be shared vision, mission, values, and alignment. But what happens when all that work isn’t enough? What happens when the team remains dysfunctional even though they appear to share the stated vision, values, and desired outcomes? What lies beneath are the “real issues” or “undiscussables” that were not addressed in the planning sessions or consultants’ work.
What all of this comes down to is avoidance and self-defense. Although the specific drivers for avoidance and protective behavior vary widely among individuals, the common thread is fear – loss of power, employment, position, and respect of colleagues are just the beginning. From there it goes to our own personal fears and avoidance patterns learned in childhood.
So if you have done all your strategy work over the top of, or in avoidance of, fundamental clashes among your team members, then you never really had alignment. Nothing has really changed and the chances your vision will be fulfilled are minimal. As undiscussables.com would say, “it’s time to talk about the elephant in the room.”
It can be incredibly difficult, distressing and painful to surface and address these conflicts – especially if one of the “problem people” was previously very successful, worked well on other teams, or you have a personal relationship with that person. What’s more, you and/or your colleagues may not have developed the requisite skills and methodologies for leading productive conversations in these types of situations. Nevertheless, if you continue to let the “real issues” fester, distrust grows rapidly within the team (see my previous blog on the importance of trust). Team members feel unsafe and question your awareness and your leadership.
Depending on the level of your own skills and the degree of dysfunction, you may need to enlist outside assistance from a coach, consultant or mediator to surface, address, and resolve the issues.
So take some time to reflect and consider – are you avoiding real issues that are driven by behavior and personality within your team (and by you)? Are you allowing “undiscussables” to drive the bus? (Most of the groups I have worked with are, to a greater or lesser degree). If you recognize these issues and upon reflection your answer is “yes,” the reality is that the longer you avoid action, the worse it will get for everyone, including you.