You might be surprised by what’s really happening in your team

Friday, November 06, 2015 Carolyn Dean 0 Comments

We have often started working with a team that we have been told by its leader is working very well only to find that in fact there are a myriad of issues underneath the surface that no one is talking about.

As you can imagine, this can be a surprising discovery for the leader of the team who thought everything was pretty good. The interesting question for us is – how does this happen? Are people completely unaware or are they pretending?

Chris Argyris and Donald Schon’s work on ‘Theory in Use versus Espoused Theory’ may give us the answer – this youtube video does a great job of explaining their theory.

In their research Argyris and Schon identified that people have mental maps with regard to how to act in situations - and those mental maps are comprised of the way they plan, implement and review their actions. Argyris and Schon’s assertion was that it is these maps that actually guide people’s actions rather than the theories people explicitly espouse. Argyris and Schon also said that very few people are aware of the maps or the theories they use, resulting in a gap between what people say they do (or say they are) and what happens in reality.

Everyday examples of this phenomenon are:

• Someone saying they are an open person and interested in feedback but getting defensive and upset when they receive feedback.

• Someone saying they are a team player but in meetings not taking an interest in or listening to what others on the team are saying.

I’m sure you could think of many other examples you have experienced.

To drive high levels of team performance these gaps have to be identified and bridged, and that takes courage on the part of the leader first and then the rest of the team members. It can be very dislocating or invalidating to discover that there is gap between what you say and what you do - after all it runs at odds with what you are really committed to.

We are trained from a very young age that lying or misrepresenting the truth is ‘bad’, and that belief can be at the core of our own ‘mental maps’ and get in the way of our ability to look at the facts. To see where we say one thing, yet do another. However, the hard work of scrutinising ourselves more honestly can produce massive returns.

When a leader’s actions and behaviours truly align with their theories, that individual has attained a high level of integrity; and with it the power to make the unforeseen happen.

When a leadership team’s actions and behaviours align with what they say they are committed to, the power to create and deliver becomes exponential.


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