How your Assumptions are Blocking Progress

By: Theresa Sigillito Hollema

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Currently I am participating in an online course that is shaking up the thoughts in my head in a good way.  The course is titled We Will Dance with Mountains, and I recommend it for those who want to think about their place and impact in the world.   One section covers our generally accepted assumptions, and analyzes the impact of these assumptions on bringing change.

In this article, I would like to share some of the assumptions I encounter, which seem harmless, but may become a hurdle to becoming the creative, fun, trusting team where everyone feels like contributing their best.

Assumption #1: The quality of the Leader will determine the success of the team.  

We have a notion of the leaders as being the influencer, motivator, transformer, who is emotionally competent and can create the space where everyone thrives.   Someone who is the superstar of our team, and can work the stakeholder network like a pro.   “Why should anyone be led by you”, points to the leader as being attractive enough for others to follow.  

Given the current complex reality, the leader can not do it all, especially on a virtual team.   They simply can not be everywhere, and be attuned to all nuances and personal needs when everyone is sitting in a different location.   To put all faith in the leader is increasing the chances for failure.

Yes, we need a great leader in a virtual team, but we also need to expand the responsibility of leadership to other team members, which we call Shared Leadership.    All team members take responsibility for motivating and influencing each other, giving feedback, supporting during transitions, leveraging stakeholders, etc.  With a shared leadership mindset, the collaborations amongst the team members strengthen while everyone has a greater opportunity for their own development within the team.

Assumption #2: Technology creates barriers between people on a team.

I keep hearing this as I work with different virtual teams.  “It is so much easier to work with someone down the hall from me instead of another country”.   I nod and agree, as it makes sense - you can drop by the desk of someone and ask a quick question.  So then, asking a quick question is difficult virtually.

When I continue to ask why this is, I hear, “I do not want to bother them, they may be busy and I have no idea since I can not see them”.   This simple way of viewing communication, as a sender – receiver is limiting.  You bother me with a phone call, I give you information, you end the conversation.  If we look at our working together as interdependent, then every time I bother you, you benefit!  

The sender-receiver model doesn’t recognize the impact your call has on me, the receiver.  I learn something with our conversation; I receive another indicator of the status of our relationship, as well as the work we are doing together; I have the opportunity to contribute to your needs, which also gives me a satisfied feeling.  (1)  

To summarize, binary thinking about personal interactions may need to be replaced by an interdependent view of collaboration, thereby minimizing the hurdles of technology.

Assumption #3: Putting a structure in place is the best thing to do for a virtual team.

This makes sense – when people are far away, they need a certain structure to rely upon for efficient work.  The shadow side is when the structure dominates any efforts to build the relationships virtually.   Plans, reporting timelines, regular meetings all give the feeling of control and transparency.  But what happens when plans go haywire, emergencies arise, and team members need to respond quickly.  How does the reporting tool help then?  What we need are people who trust each other to reach out, make the changes, and fix the issues, thereby momentarily bypassing the structure.  

The key wording was ‘people we can trust’, in terms of capability, reliability, integrity and willingness to support.  Taking the time to build those connections and relationships will be worth the effort when the plans and structure can not respond to the changing environment.

These were just a few examples of assumptions which seem innocent, but can block your progress to collaborate on global virtual teams.   By reflecting on your own assumptions about work, and examining together the shared team assumptions, you can see which beliefs belong in the old way of working, and which are supporting collaboration and connection.

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  1.  http://time.com/4070299/secret-to-happiness