Silence is Not Golden

Blog 2021-08-31 Listen to Team

My husband and I are halfway through a four-month renovation on our home. Over the first couple of months, the small crew of craftsmen have formed a true team: The collective mission is shared, their roles are defined, individual goals are set, and results are routinely delivered.

As a homeowner, I certainly appreciate the “what” part of this project; as a leadership catalyst, I’m delighted to witness the “how” part – how they communicate and interact with one another … how they naturally get together and collaborate when figuring out a solution to one of their project challenges. They are connected and enjoy working together … and they care about our house and the outcome as much as we do.

Things shifted recently when timeline problems made it necessary to add another person. When I walked into the house, I no longer heard the good-hearted banter among them; I actually felt a heaviness in the atmosphere. Nothing was said for about two weeks until one event occurred, and they could be silent no more.

The original team shared that while they knew this individual and were aware of his previous work quality, it quickly became evident that he didn’t have the same commitment to the project. They politely voiced their concerns about his lack of diligence to the details and were cautious with their words about his independent attitude.

Being a generous person, my husband suggested that we give the individual another chance. Our plan was to share our concerns, make our expectations very clear, and agree on a demonstrated outcome that we wanted to see – in business terms: a performance improvement plan.

That approach was met with a sincere “Whatever you think is best. You’re the boss.” That night, we delved deeper into what was said and not said and changed our minds. We never had that conversation; instead, we let the newest addition go.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting that leaders simply fire folks who don’t fit with the team. What leaders must do is deeply listen to their teams. Hierarchical deference is commonplace; teams will comply with their boss solely because they are “outranked.” This silence is not golden. The willingness of team members to share their concerns must be paramount for healthy teams.

Our decision was based on knowing that the team culture was more important than meeting a specific timeline. The overall health of the team would be impacted if no action was taken.  

When we announced the outcome to the team, the release of tension was palpable. Creativity kicked in and roles shifted – without the need for an additional person. The environment is productive and fun again, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. 

This Week’s Challenge: Whether you are part of a team or responsible for a team, really listen to what is being said as well as what is not being said. How can you create an environment where people are comfortable sharing their views without expecting a specific outcome? Is nothing shared because “It’s not my place?” Are you defaulting to hierarchical deference? And, if so, what’s the reason? There can be many answers: It’s more than ensuring everyone is aligned on the real issue. It’s habit.  It’s what you are “supposed” to do. Pay attention this week and jot down what you are noticing in team interactions – and consider what you might want to do differently next time. 

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  1. Doug Brady on August 31, 2021 at 9:26 am

    Excellent Tee

    “ one bad apple….”


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