Answers to Four Questions Determine the Quality of Team Relationships

When we are faced with a new situation, we automatically run through a quick inner checklist that has four questions:

Why, who, what and how.

The sequence of the four questions is always the same. We need answers to them in that order. It’s hard for us to totally focus on the next one if we are missing answers to the previous questions.

It's not as if we speak these questions out loud, especially not the first two. We sense them—our radar scans for answers.

The classic beginner’s error managers make is that they jump in and show team members how they want something done, totally skipping the first three questions. Then, they scratch their head in frustration as they realize the job is not getting done the way they hoped. “How many times do I have to tell them this?”

Slightly more experienced managers will skip just the first two questions and go straight to what and then on to how. It's a bit better but not by much.

Why We Do What We Do

You see, we all do what we do because it makes sense to us. It may not make sense to others but it makes sense to us, otherwise we would not do it—period.

If we want others to engage, be part of our team and build a strong relationship with us, we team leaders need to be able to explain why we are doing it—to set the scene so to speak. If it is not meaningful to them, we are off to a halfhearted start.

Once we understand the why, our next reflex is to scan for who. “Who are the people I am doing this with?” “What is the relationship status here?” “Do I know them? Do I trust them?” “What is the hierarchy in this group?” Essentially, this is all about one key question: How safe do I feel with these people?

If I can't get clear answers, I will be cautious and hold back until I am surer of what is going on. As a consequence, some of the energy I could be using to get the job done is now diverted to figuring out the relationships and levels of trust. My main focus is to protect myself.

Unfortunately, most managers leave this who part to time. They will work it out and eventually get to know each other is the thinking. When I challenge them on this, the excuse is always the same: We don’t have the time for that.

Maybe they will; maybe they won't.

But you are taking a huge risk if you do it like that. You risk slowing down your project implementation dramatically. Down the line, interpersonal relationship issues are bound to pop up and cause all sorts of stupid damage that could have been avoided with a better understanding of each other upfront. The time you saved upfront by not spending time on relationship building is nothing compared to the time you lose in the other end sorting out the problems.

How Do We Accelerate That Process?

We need to help team members to get to know each other at a slightly deeper level than just Hello, how are you? As a rule of thumb, the larger and more complex or uncertain the project, the deeper we need to get to know each other, which is what I tried to illustrate in the previous blog post.

My favorite way of initiating this process is to have team members do the Team Management Profile survey. Once we have the profile for each team member, we can produce a dynamic team profile overview that shows how team members relate to each other—if they are alike and, more importantly, if they have major differences in their preferences and approach to work.

This invariable produces an Aha moment as people realize that the person they thought was so irritating, incompetent or whatever because of their lack of say, interest in detail, is not actually a bad person. They just have a different set of work preference from mine and we actually complement each other well because that person does another part of this much better than I do.

If you remember in a previous blog post where I showed you that what makes strong system is the connection of “elements”' with different characteristics. Diversity is the key to success.

Once we work through the different team member profiles, we also establish a common language around the characteristics, so it becomes non-confrontational and easy to tell someone if they are doing something that is not helpful or plainly just does not work for the team. It is no longer about who is right and wrong but about how we accommodate each other’s strengths and weaknesses in order to get the job done, which is an absolutely different and much healthier culture.


A Note on Personality Profiles

As you know, there are many different types of profiles available. They come in all sorts and shapes and range from free to expensive. Myers-Briggs, DISC, 16 Personalities, Enneagram—the list is endless. I have tried most of them over the years. I much prefer The Team Management Profile because it measures your preferences at work and it is the only one where participants consistently give me the feedback that they find it helpful, not just in understanding themselves and others, but also in learning how to roughly decode others without having to give them a test. You learn to watch for telltale signs that indicate what is meaningful to the person in front of you.


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Mike Hohnen, MBA is a coach, trainer, author and public speaker who supports leaders, managers and their teams in implementing the principles of the Service Profit Chain.

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