Years ago, after one of those silly arguments all couples get into, my wife and I made a rule for ourselves. No matter what the disagreement, we must always keep in mind that we are on the same team.
We may vehemently disagree with the other about the topic at hand, but fundamentally, we are in this together and reaching for the same goals. We are both trying to improve the relationship and push our shared goals forward, even if the way we do it may differ or if we make mistakes along the way.
We’re on the same team.
This creates a foundation of understanding and trust, a lens through which to view flare-ups and screw-ups, and a way to move forward together.
That escalated quickly
Years later, I had a situation at work that could have used this foundation. A person on my team screwed up. I don’t remember exactly what the incident was, but it was minor.
The Account Executive on the account stormed into my office claiming that both I and my direct-report who had made the error were sabotaging the project, that my direct-report should be fired. To top it off the AE questioned my abilities as manager (this person had never managed a team).
I didn’t know where to begin. I was angry at the accusations and the mountain-out-of-molehill nature of them, but knew I had to find a way to calm this person down (they were on the verge of tears) and make progress on resolving the issue in the short-term and keeping an effective working relationship long-term. This wouldn’t be the only project we worked on together.
I couldn’t help but be reminded of the arguments my wife and I had gotten into. The AE wasn’t concerned over the actual mistake, she was expressing a much deeper concern. I took a deep breath, asked the AE to calm down, and told them the story about me and my wife (with more detail than I did above).
First off, this took us both out of the heat of the moment so we could calm down and gain some perspective. Second, I was sharing a personal story; opening yourself up emotionally is always disarming. Third, it gave us a productive way forward and allowed us to address their concerns.
Most importantly, it addressed the root cause. This was not about a missed deadline, a website error, an unsent email, or whatever the actual mistake was. This was a trust issue. The true problem, that would continue to come up if unaddressed, was that the Account Executive did not think, did not trust, that we shared their goal.
I reminded them that no matter what happens, even if someone screws up, we have to go into every discussion with the trust that we’re on the same team, we all want the same thing: a happy, successful client.
We’re on the same team.
Trust + shared goals = happy client, happy team
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the last time this happened with this Account Executive. I, and others, had multiple tear-soaked run-ins where minor mishaps were turned into catastrophe and career questioning. Now we all had a useful shorthand to diffuse the situation and remind everyone what was important. It became our mantra:
We’re on the same team. We’re on the same team. We’re on the same team.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia