By Dean Whittaker

What did I learn this month? Actually, I learned much more than I expected. I learned that I am not a staff member, but rather, I am a member of a team. We don’t have staff meeting any more but rather team meetings. More than just words, I now see the people I work with in a much different light. What made the difference? Reading and listening to Five Dysfunctions of a Team changed the way I perceived the people that I spend more waking time with everyday than my spouse.

In his book, Patrick Lencioni uses a parable of a failing technology company and the CEO brought in to rescue it from self-destruction. The new CEO goes about the task by re-building the executive team. She starts out by creating the foundation of trust and teaches her team how to learn to trust each other. Next she teaches them the importance of conflict in the form of open and honest debate with an understanding and a trust that the other people are doing so in the best interest of the team. She demonstrates the need for commitment to the team and its goals when she fired one “team” member and another resigned. She then moved on to the need to hold each other accountable for doing their part as a member of the team working towards common, mutually agreed upon goals. Lastly, she showed how putting the team’s needs ahead of the individual’s ego needs were necessary to achieve the common team goals.

Thus, I have begun a journey to build and be part of a high-performance team by changing my relationship with the people with whom I work. Although I still catch myself saying staff when I mean team, I have been amazed by the difference in how it feels. The first step has been getting to know each other in a different light. By sharing pieces of our personal histories during each of our weekly team meetings, we have begun to know each other at a deeper level. Some of the things we have shared are: What challenges did you face growing up? What do you like doing outside of work? What do you feel you are good at doing? Do you have siblings? If so, what is your birth order? These are simple things, but they are amazingly powerful in the way they connect us.

Now this may sound like a “duh” concept to many, especially those with a higher level of emotional intelligence than mine. But, it has given me a new appreciation for the people with whom I am engaged every day. It has given me a deeper sense of who they are as a person and seeing the whole person and not just the part that I interact with in the service of our clients.

One of my other favorite books is Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart by Gordon Livingston, M.D. and Elizabeth Edwards. In their book, they share the wisdom that comes with life experiences. My wish would be that I had the wisdom of both of these books twenty years ago. But, as the saying goes, “Better late than never.” Stay tuned as we continue on our journey of discovery and getting to know each other.