Elephants and Worms

We believe that high performing teams need elephants and worms!

Effective teams have the courage to talk about ‘the elephant in the room’ and have the confidence and skills to ‘open a can of worms’.

The success of any team rises and falls on the quality of the relationships. If the relationships don’t function and flow effectively, the team’s ability to perform will become impaired. When difficult conversations are avoided the relationships in a team can be superficial. For a variety of reasons, people get hurt, become angry and frustrated, withdraw and become passive. Highly intelligent, well-paid, experienced leaders can pull back and rationalise their reasons to remain disengaged.

In our team coaching model, we elevate relationships as the most important priority to be addressed in any senior team. We create methods and approaches that enable team members to reflect upon the quality of their relationships and take action to improve relationship flow.

We believe that there are four aspects of relational flow:

  • Emotional capacity (how much space is there in the relationship for a range of emotions to be displayed? Are difference, disagreement and difficulty ok and managed well?)
  • Clear exchanges (requests & offers, seeking clarity, negotiating, contracting, feeding back, reviewing, learning, etc.)
  • Openness to feedback (giving and receiving.)
  • Strengthen the Adult (assuming equality, ownership, managing self, stating ‘I want’, ‘I feel’, ‘I need’, etc.)
    Patrick Lencioni’s ‘The five dysfunctions of a team’ (2002), identifies core reasons as to why teams don’t perform well. One dysfunction is a fear of conflict. A team that avoids naming ‘the elephant in the room’, often loses energy and focus and instead of healthy dialogue, backroom conversations can contribute to negative game playing and politics.

Google’s research on effective teams, Project Aristotle (2012) identified one of the core components of high performing teams within the organisation as psychological safety, a team where risks can be taken without insecurity or embarrassment. A team that has trust and psychological safety can tackle disagreement and difficulty with open, direct and adult communication.

In a senior leadership team, it’s healthy to open the ‘can of worms’, to manage conflict well and as a result to move to a higher level of performance. As any farmer will tell you, worms are very good for making fertile soil!