Working on Working Together

post by Chad Littlefield and Will Wise:

Vulnerability is natural. It’s human—so much so that the
word “human” is often used to point out or help us come to terms with our

So when we enter a new situation, we often search for
something to protect us. If we’re at a party filled with people we largely
don’t know, we’ll seek out the person we do, at least until we’ve adjusted and
are comfortable mingling with others. Online, we might edit our tweets and
posts before sending them out to the world based on how we think others will
react to them.

As a result of our vulnerability, we instinctively build
walls to protect us from others we don’t already trust, but those walls also
prevent connection and all of the positives that come from it.

Imagine you want to work with a new employee so you give
them a project to spearhead with your input—let’s say you’ve want them to work
with you on the task of reducing the number of meetings that take place around
the office on a weekly basis, either by consolidating smaller meetings into
fewer, larger ones or by determining which can be cut altogether.

Likely, your initial interactions with this employee in
pursuit of solving this problem will follow these simple steps:

1. You’ll
shake hands and introduce yourselves

2. Then
you will then take turns brainstorming potential solutions to the problem at
hand—mostly small tweaks to current policies and activities in the office.

3. For each suggestion one of you makes, the other
explains why it wouldn’t work or what in it is useful. This goes back and forth
until a consensus is reached on a middle ground, “safe option,” and you both go
on your way.

Seems like a pretty straightforward, common work
interaction a new employee and their manager. But you can do better, right off
the bat, if you prioritize connection when leading. Before jumping into
solutions for the project, establish a relationship of trust that will allow
you to be more comfortable with each other—it’s especially important for an
employee to feel comfortable and able to express their opinions and ideas with
their superiors (creating that kind of environment is just great leadership).

Ask them a question that is outside of the realm of “small
talk.” Ask (respectfully) about something their wearing or carrying based on
your curiosity, or ask the story behind an interesting tchotchke on their desk
you saw when you walked past it in the morning. Have them share a little bit
about themselves—not their role at the company or their role before it, but who
they are regardless of where they’re sitting—and share some of your own as
well. Staring with an ask that began with natural, genuine curiosity, an urge
to connect will be fostered in both parties.

By building this rapport, you will be focused on working
together, on truly collaborating, instead of simply solving a problem, and
ironically that means that any solution you come up with will be far better
because it’s one that is fully using the power of two brains collaborating. You
can create something entirely new that has never been done before, something
you’ll both love and find yourself hoping the other team members will buy into
it as well. Rather than one person having passion for their idea and the other
going along with it, the solution is something you are both passionate about
and will champion.
You’ll know trust is high between you when you catch
yourself or the employee things like “Our idea….” or “We’ve got this idea….”
rather than “My idea is…” or “I got this idea…” The “me” moments shift to “we”
moments when an idea is born and then built upon in the space between multiple

If we connect before diving
into content with our colleagues and those we lead, we will spend less time
shooting down ideas and will be comfortable enough to listen and build on the
ideas of others. Peter Block once said that “without relatedness, no work can
occur.” Creativity and innovation happens best in an environment of
psychological safety where we trust that those we are working with have our
best interest in mind. When we don’t feel the need to put up walls, true
collaboration can happen.


M.Ed., is the author of #1 Amazon Bestselling Book, Asking Powerful
Questions: Create Conversations that Matter
. He has over two decades of experience

custom building leadership
programs for corporate and nonprofit groups. Leaders call Will when there is a
lack of trust getting in the way of results. Tens of thousands of people have
been empowered with positive communication skills after spending some time with
WiLL and We!™.

, M.Ed. is the co-founder and CEO of We!™, keynote
speaker and professional facilitator. Leaders and conference organizers call
Chad when they want to make their events more interactive and engaging. He has
spoken at TEDx and is the creator of We! Connect Cards™, which are now being
used to create conversations that matter on campuses and companies in over 50
countries around the world.