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Leveraging Team Adversity

Building A Team
Collaboration
Motivation

2 August, 2019

Seth Falcon
Seth Falcon

VP Platform Engineering at BlaBlaCar

Seth Falcon shares how to leverage conflict amongst a newly formed team through challenges, goals, and high standards.

Problem

When a team is forming and in its beginning stages, there is likely to be some sort of conflict. This is typical, and actually encouraged, because the alternative means that people aren't opening up, saying what they think, or putting in their best effort, which is concerning. The idea, though, is to leverage that internal conflict so that the team develops and gel to form a productive and tightly knit group.

Actions taken

Having people get to know each other and doing activities together outside of work is one way for the team to become cohesive. However, I find that individuals collectively bond as a team when they're doing actual work together in the trenches. Accordingly, when the team is given things to do - for example, an early project or a challenge - they must resolve their differences and deliver. The assignment acts as a forcing agent, an opportunity to sort through conflicts and come out the other side. Think back in your career to a time when you were part of a team that had a deadline. You had to work with your team to deliver. How did you feel about the team afterwards? In my experience, adversity binds people together. So set goals, and lofty ones at that. Set a really high standard for the work that the team should be doing. Stretch goals and push people to work together on a particular vision. What if you could achieve it? Wouldn't it be amazing?! Then let the team work together and bring about a resolution to that task. If you set the standard incredibly high and shoot for that, even if they fail, they probably would have done something awesome. More so, it provides a surge in trust, connection, and confidence amongst the team because they would have accomplished something great rather than something mediocre.

Lessons learned

  • If you set the target work for the team at an okay level, then the best you are going to get is just okay. Plus, if they miss, then the work they did is not even good, and nobody wants that for themselves. It's certainly not great for team morale or motivation. Instead, aim really high. Even if they don't get there then the team as a whole will learn and grow from the experience and probably have delivered on something really really good.
  • Acknowledge concerns about failing at lofty goals. They're right, they might not be able to do it. But encourage them to try. They will do better work if they try and miss the mark by a little than if you set the target much lower and nobody actually pushes themselves.
  • Leadership is a balance between opposing ideas like natural tension and conflict. You need to care about your team and about the people on that team, but you also need to care about the mission that you are trying to accomplish. Merging the two means creating a safe space where people feel like it's okay to try and fail without being punished.

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