written by Erica Quam
Most teams waste lots of time and energy blaming, complaining, and being negative. This will always hold your team back! When you decide as a leader to commit your team’s time and energy to resolve underlying issues, you may find more people on your team are freed up to be at their best and can begin to tap into their full potential.
It starts with the coach
You set the tone by being approachable, admitting mistakes when you make them, being willing to look at issues, and working with your team to try and solve them.
You won’t have an environment of trust if your athletes are afraid to bring things up, if they fear losing their place on the team, or some other terrible ramification you hold over them.
So, trust starts with you the leader. Make it okay for your athletes to bring things up to you. Be curious and open to hear what they are thinking. Work to resolve problems - for the good of your team. Create a team culture where your athletes and staff feel comfortable bringing up issues.
Once you have built trust on your team, communication will be more honest and flow more freely.
Talk about issues
It is normal to have issues. Let me repeat that again...it is normal to have issues. The sooner you can admit you have them - and view it as normal instead of negative or weak - the faster you’ll make progress towards your goals.
In teams, the same issues will crop up over and over again, year after year. What changes is your ability to identify and solve them. All teams suffer from the following challenges:
- fear of conflict
- lack of focus
- lack of discipline
- lack of commitment
- lack of accountability
- personal ego
Lots of coaches make the mistake of assuming everything’s great on their team…until the issues that have been brewing for a long time come to the surface and erupt…at the most inopportune time.
What drains your energy as a coach isn’t the amount of work you do, it’s having unresolved issues to deal with.
Most coaches are afraid to open themselves up and talk about issues. This can stem from a fear of conflict. Coaches know that people on their team will have different opinions, they won’t ever be able to please everyone, and they think talking about it will just make things worse. Ultimately, the coach is in charge, the coach makes the decision, and everyone else has to follow. Or else. Right?
Yes - people will have different opinions. Yes - you may never be able to please everyone all the time. However, your athletes will still be talking about the issues. They’ll just be talking amongst themselves (destructive) instead of coming to you (constructive). That’s when things really turn negative. That’s when people start to blame, judge, and complain - without having all the information. That’s when athletes start to take matters into their own hands and go to the administration instead of talking directly to the coach. That is toxic!
If you can have more regular conversations about issues, you get the opportunity to educate your team. You can tell them why you're making a decision - instead of your athletes jumping to conclusions and making all sorts of assumptions. Take the opportunity to talk about the bigger picture, and educate your team on the overall vision. It's a powerful opportunity!
When you can regularly discuss issues, your athletes will feel more respected. They will feel more valued, listened to, and heard. Ultimately, they know you are in charge and will make the final decision. That’s the position you’re in. (And you can remind them of that when they forget). They're likely be more committed to a decision if they've been able to share their perspective with you...AND you’ve actually taken the time to hear them out.
You have to set some boundaries before you open things up. Be the leader. Let your team (and your staff) know what’s okay and what’s not okay.
Follow these three steps when you discuss any issue: 1) identify 2) discuss 3) solve
When addressing issues, most people discuss the heck out of everything. There’s usually a lot of venting which includes blame, judgement, and criticism. No one focuses on actually identifying the real issue and rarely is anything ever solved.
Start by getting clear on the real issue. The problem someone brings up is rarely the real issue. It’s usually at least a few layers down. Most of the time the problem that's brought up is only a symptom of what’s really going on.
Things might get uncomfortable. Part of the problem might be related to a person. This can get really uncomfortable if it’s something related to you or your staff. You have to be able to talk about the elephant in the room. If you don’t talk about it, what you resist will persist.
It may also be helpful to categorize issues into three areas:
- a true problem that needs to be solved
- information that needs to be communicated and agreed upon
- an idea or opportunity that needs brainstorming, feedback, insight, and maybe someone to take action on making it happen.
Putting an issue into one of these three categories can help your team understand the objective and bring about a more efficient solution.
The first step is usually the one that takes the longest. You can think of it like peeling away layers from an onion. Once you identify the real issue, the discussion and solutions come pretty quickly.
To keep things simple, the discussion is everyone’s opportunity to speak up and say everything they have to say about the issue. That being said, here are some other ground rules:
- Everyone says what they believe about an issue.
- Only say what you believe about the issue once.
- Fight for the greater good, not for what’s best for you.
- If the solution begins to cause you discomfort, be even more open to the big picture.
- Allow the best solution to come to light, even if it causes you some pain.
- Once the discussion becomes redundant, it’s probably time to move to step 3.
Most of the time, teams jump right into discussion without identifying the real issue. People go off on tangents and lose focus. It may feel productive…but it’s not. Don't skip step 1.
Tangent = diverging from an original purpose or course; see irrelevant
Coaches and athletes are notorious for going off on tangents. I know because I’ve sat in on team meetings. In meetings, I keep track of tangents and write them down. Being aware of the tendency to go off on tangents is the first step. Next, get in the habit of saying, “Tangent Alert!" as a friendly reminder to get back on track.
If the tangent is a real issue, then add it to your list to talk about at another time.
Look for solutions to support the overall vision, goals, and values of your team. Make decisions as a team from where you want to be - not where you are right now. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself duct-taping things together just to make things work…for now. Keep the big picture in mind.
Here are three types of solutions:
1. Solutions may lead to an action step. For example, “Susan is going to make copies of our team expectations for everyone to hang inside their locker.”
2. Some solutions lead to an awareness; a new level of understanding. The group must conclude that they understand that awareness. For instance, “okay, so we agree that we’ll put our phones away so we can be more present and connect with one another during team meals.”
3. Other solutions need to wait. These are issues that need more research or facts to be gathered. In this case, the team can agree to table the issue until the next meeting.
Talking about issues on your team is a process based in trust. When people can engage in open and honest communication, they can effectively bring their concerns to the table. Put boundaries in place so your team can have a healthy discussion over issues instead of an unhealthy conversation about a person. Follow the three steps of 1) identify 2) discuss and 3) solve without going off on tangents.
Building a team isn’t always a smooth process. It requires work and dedication to your overall goals and vision. I think most coaches will agree: the lessons your athletes learn and the results they get from participating on your team reach well-beyond athletics!
Do you have an issue that your team is dealing with where you feel stuck? Leave a comment or ask a question here.