How Can We Help?

How To Bridge Individual Differences in a Team

In a meeting recently a manager asked for ideas to help solve a client situation. Typically, those in the group who like to communicate outwardly offered multiple ideas. While ideas bounced around the group, I noticed one of the quieter participants, Angela. I could see she was processing her thoughts. She usually offers great insights after a while but she’s not that great at articulating her thoughts in the moment.  

“Can we come back to you later with some ideas?” I asked the manager. “I think it’s important we consider all options and the likely outcomes.” The manager responded with a sense of urgency to say she wanted it resolved now. She turned to the vocal communicators to settle on a solution. Angela’s face fell. 

What I witnessed was a variety of communication styles and unfortunately, I felt and heard a level of frustration from some in the group as we left the meeting. I wondered how we could have done that better.  

We all communicate differently. Just like hair and eye colour, gender, and shape, the way we receive and give information is different from others and is influenced by the way we think, feel, and then behave. External influences include the way we were brought up, family members, friends, peers, communities, school, and work experiences. 

With all these individual differences how is it possible that anything can be achieved together? No wonder there’s potential for miscommunication at work and therefore misunderstanding and frustration.  

It’s commonly understood that legislation, regulatory standards of practice, and organisational policies and procedures guide and direct workplace behaviours to achieve agreed outcomes. This is especially true where there are identifiable high risks to health and well-being that requires safeguarding. This higher level of collective agreement makes sense.  

But how do we bridge differences when everyone is under constant pressure to perform complex tasks or multiple tasks that rely on others?  

How do we handle the day-to-day interactions with our colleagues and the people we support? 

Team Code of Communication 

If you find that misunderstanding and frustration dominates your team, then take some time out to come together and agree on some communication fundamentals. A common characteristic of high performing teams is effective communication and an outward focus on each other.  

How do you establish openness and trust in your team? Develop a Team Code of Communication. This recognises straight up that we have individual differences that require team agreement to be the best we can be. Together, decide on details of the aspects of effective communication that are important for your team. Be brave and daring. Write it down. Have each member of the team give their agreement and commitment by signing up to it.  

Include aspects such as:  

  • The need for team-focused goals, 
  • Clear directions,  
  • Encouragement of different opinions,  
  • Respect for each other, 
  • What defines offensive behaviors in the team,  
  • Defined team roles, 
  • Team accountability for what happens if someone breaks the agreement, 
  • How do you celebrate success together (morning tea?), and 
  • What support for each other looks like when needed.

Empathy is an antidote to disagreement at work 

Do you find it challenging to connect with someone at work sometimes? Maybe it’s a colleague, supervisor, or someone you’re supporting. Try to turn your focus outward to them. Consider seeing them as “a person that has challenges, and you don’t know what the person is dealing with.” It can be difficult and counter-intuitive at first because our instinct is to turn inward toward our own feelings and thoughts. Empathizing with other people’s needs is a way to build connections with others. 

I couldn’t help thinking to myself if that manager at the meeting could have just stopped for a moment to actually “see the person whose challenge we were trying to overcome,” that, as a team, we would have taken the required time to consider and agree on the best options. And we would have felt good about our team performance at that moment. Rather than frustrated. 

Author: Steve Noone, Edited by Chris Rattray