I could have titled this post “Undiscussables, or why we don’t talk about the elephant in the room”, but it was too long.
There are certain things that teams don’t discuss. Sometimes this is to avoid short-term conflict, sometimes because the topic itself is embarrassing, and sometimes because it would require decisions that no one wants to make. All of these behaviors create an artificial harmony in the team, with consequent effects on communication and trust.
The elephant in the room is always a barrier to grow as a team. And yet, there is a fear to worsen the situation if we dare to talk of it or acknowledge its existence, making good the saying “a known evil is better than an unknown good”.
Fear is a horrible travel companion. It steals us our resources to solve conflicts and face difficulties. It makes us play not to lose instead of play to win.
To be honest, being courageous in a team is not that easy. People need some basics to make this happen, beginning by a certain amount of trust and fluid communication.
We, humans, are social mammals. This means that we fear being rejected by the group. When we work in teams, we develop some sense of belonging, and once we have that, it’s quite possible that we don’t risk it by saying something inconvenient unless we feel sure that our place there is not in doubt.
Not having that security can prevent people from speaking up, which feeds the elephant and creates a vicious cycle of more and more obstacles to growing as a team.
The team’s ability to discuss the undiscussables which are holding it back will shape its effectiveness.
Whether the team has a leader or not, everyone should have a say in what is happening. Without deflecting the leader’s responsibility, we must be aware that everyone there must be held accountable.
However, the team’s culture is always built from the top down, and it’s immensely impacted by the leader’s behavior. Therefore, before being able to address the undiscussables, they have to create the conditions for trust to grow by setting the right example.
Actions always speak louder than words, so they need to reinforce behaviors they expect from the rest of the team. Displaying a supportive or consultative leadership style is proven to be a good thing to create a positive team climate.
When the team feels comfortable asking for help, sharing thoughts, or challenging the status quo without fear of negative consequences, it’s less likely that there are undiscussables.