Who Do You Tweak?

Yourself or the team?

Recently I’ve been coaching a team that is full of wonderful people, but in all honesty it has to be some of the hardest work I’ve done in a long, long time. Trying to get us all through the maze of neurosis, conflicts, petty jealousy and uncertainties has been enough to drive anyone nuts. We’ve made some terrific progress, but it has been slow, deliberate work. There haven’t been many dramatic breakthroughs. We aren’t hyper-performing. Hell, sometimes I think I’ll just be happy if we can make it to “stable”.

Along the way I’ve noticed something funny happening. When I first joined the team, I was told they were the “problem team” for the organization. Much of my early approach to coaching the group might be described as “tweaking” the rules that the team operated with. By tweaking I mean trying out different ways of working with each other that seemed to best address the myriad of problems we faced. Early on, I was definitely the one who was tweaking them (with the team occasionally tweaking me back just to keep me from getting too cocky).

But I found that I could only get limited success by treating the team as a black box with knobs on it that needed adjustment. A good friend of mine pointed out that I was still referring to “them” as the problem team. I realized that the “me” vs. “them” dichotomy had to be eliminated if this was going to be a success. Easier said than done.

That meant I really needed to become one of the team – in essence, I needed to tweak myself a bit. I had to take off the surgical gloves and dive into the black box with the rest of the team. Changing the rules had to impact me just as much as it impacted them. I found myself spending more time focused on my own behavior (in relation to the team) than on their behavior. Am I allowing them to speak their minds? Can I really give up control over certain things and still be a good coach? Nebulous stuff to be sure. These days, I’m no longer really sure who I’m trying to change – the team or myself. The line is blurred. Sometimes it is uncomfortable, but I must say that I’m much happier with the result. We’re making great progress. I caught myself telling someone today that “we rock!”

So I guess I’m coming to realize the being a coach is not just about being skilled at influencing others – it’s also about being willing and able to change yourself. Rock on.

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