Do High Performing Teams Accept Unacceptable Behaviour?

Whenever I conduct leadership development or my Teams That Matter® program I ask, “Do high performing teams accept or reject unacceptable behaviour?”.

The answer arrives with a resounding chorus, “They reject it!”.

Yet how can people reject unacceptable behaviour if the team hasn’t made explicit what behaviours are acceptable and unacceptable?

For example, is answering a phone in a team meeting acceptable or unacceptable behaviour? What about not speaking during team meetings? Or the leader who is always late to meetings? No doubt you may think that these behaviours are clearly unacceptable – at least from your perspective. You might hold the view that ‘everyone knows‘ that these behaviours are unacceptable.

The evidence is overwhelming that ‘everyone doesn’t know‘. The fact that these behaviours exist indicates that not everyone shares the same view that you have.

Teams need to have an explicit agreement about what behaviours are acceptable, and what behaviours are unacceptable. So how do you make these behaviours explicit?

You host a series of conversations.

First ask, “In any team of which you have been a member, what team member behaviours have really annoyed you because you believe they have detracted from the team’s performance or potential to perform?” Collect the responses and name this list ‘Hindering behaviours‘.

Young business colleagues showing unityI have never had a team not be able to answer this question! Unfortunately this indicates that people like you have experienced your fair share of annoying team member behaviours – which is why the list is so easy to create!

Next ask, “What behaviours should we adopt to help us to be the best that we can be?” Collect the responses and name this list ‘Supporting behaviours‘.

Each list usually has six to 10 behaviours.

Your last question is, “What will we do if we believe that we are seeing the unacceptable behaviours?

The power of this question is that it allows you to define the process that you will take when an issue arises. Yet, because you are having this discussion when there isn’t a ‘live’ issue it enables you to keep the emotion out of this conversation.

When you believe that you are seeing a team member do one of the hindering behaviours, it is important to keep an open mind to their side of the story. Over time I have learned that many people actually believe that they are doing a supporting behaviour when others see it as hindering behaviour. 

These conversations don’t take a lot of time to complete, yet most teams don’t conduct them. Be bold. Be different. Have the courage to make your acceptable and unacceptable behaviours explicit as they will make your challenge of creating a high performing team that much easier!

Gary Ryan enables leaders and their teams to move Beyond Being Good®.

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