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The Mack Trucks of Life: Working Effectively With Teams Series

The most fortunate teams, and the ones with the best chance of succeeding, have at least one (hopefully more than one) member who tends to see things differently. That’s the team member who speaks up about a potential issue that is not on everyone else’s horizon just yet. Seeing a problem before it becomes a problem is a great way to avoid risks that can derail your project.

Risk is something that companies spend a great deal of time trying to control and manage. How do you know the extent to which your team’s chance of success is at risk? One way is to consider the make-up of your teams. Do the team members bring different perspectives? But, you might protest, a team whose members bring to the table multiple perspectives may take longer to come to decisions and to work through differences, and that is time consuming and at times even frustrating. And, you’d be right to bring that up. That team, however, is actually operating in a lower-risk environment than another common kind of team.

The team that is at greatest risk is the team in which everyone thinks the same. That team can experience serious threats to the success of their project. If everyone is looking in the same direction—that is, thinking the same way—then no one is looking in the other direction. Where do you think the “Mack trucks of life,” as I affectionately call them, come from? They don’t come from the direction we’re all looking; they come from the direction of our collective blind spot. If all the members of a team pretty much think the same way—share the same or very similar perspectives—then they share the same blind spot. If you’re on that kind of team, you may need to get ready for the threat that “comes out of nowhere” and may put at risk everything you’re trying to accomplish.

Now, we’re a democracy and proud of it. (And rightly so.) What do you think happens when that team member who sees things differently speaks up? Well, in a democracy, majority wins, so that person tends to get voted down, told they’re wrong, or just plain not listened to. After all, it’s only one person who sees it that way. He or she must be wrong. Right? At least, that’s the classic thinking on this topic.

What do you think starts to happen after a while if the one person who sees things differently repeatedly experiences the frustration of being voted down or being ignored? What would you do if you were in those shoes? For most of us, we’d just stop speaking up. And that’s the worst thing that can happen for your team—the person who has the different perspective just gives up trying to get heard at all.

If that’s the only person who sees the Mack truck of corporate life barreling down on your project, what do you think can happen to the project’s chance of success? Mack trucks tend to flatten things in their path. Flattening is usually not pretty. And a whole lot of time, money, and effort—not to mention careers—can be “flattened” in the process, along with the project.

Natural, healthy differences in perspective may make it harder—and often do, frankly—for us to understand each other initially. Coming to consensus may also be harder work, but ultimately we are made stronger, and our assessments and decisions can be sounder and increase our chance of success. Remember, the person who sees it differently might just be standing in the team’s blind spot, and the Mack trucks of life do not, as is commonly said, come out of nowhere; they come out of our collective blind spot. Your best defense is the team member who sees things differently, along with a team that is willing to listen to, and not discount, someone who naturally sees things differently.

Future Article:  Ways to manage different perspectives in a positive and constructive way. See www.effectivewithpeople.com.

This blog was written by Carol A. Linden of Effective With People, LLC, and originally posted on www.effectivewithpeople.com. Playing well with others is good business.™