In The Trenches

Speak for yourself

Published on April 13, 2021 Back to blog

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop about building more effective and accountable teams with Eric Coryell, author of Revolutionize Team Work. Of course, I feel great about my team at the agency. However, there is always room for improvement, and attending workshops like this one always helps identify new insights and ideas that cause me to re-think the status quo and see things differently. While this session did that for me on many levels, there were two pieces of advice related to resolving issues together as a team that really struck a chord.

  1. Do not use plural pronouns such as we, us, our, they, etc.
  2. Do not ask questions.

At first, both of these seemed completely counter-intuitive to two things I often advise my team to do:

  1. Never say “I.” (It is alway we. We are a team.)
  2. Always ask questions. (In particular, always ask “why?”)

However, when explained further, I was not only sold on these suggestions, but have since implemented them with my team (and, honestly, hearing people break these rules has now become a new pet peeve.). Here’s how (and why) it works:

  1. For team discussion/issue resolution use only. First, these rules are not applicable to all situations. They’re specific to team discussions where you are seeking to identify and resolve issues together. Once I figured this out, I became much more comfortable with the overall advice.
  2. Speak for yourself. So often, we hear people say things like, “No one wants to come back to the office full time when this pandemic is over.” Well, unless that person literally spoke to everyone, the statement is likely untrue and certainly cannot be verified. What they likely mean is “I don’t want to come back to the office full time when this pandemic is over.” This is a very different statement, which would most likely lead to a more honest and transparent discussion.
  3. Say what you really mean. Using the same situation, you could imagine someone interjecting “Do you think we should close the office on Mondays?” But, what they’re really thinking (and should say) is “I think we should close the office on Mondays because…. What do you think?” In team environments, it can often feel safer to just ask a question without sharing a perspective that others may not agree with. But, again, strong teams require honest and transparency to effectively resolve issues. Be direct and say what you mean.
  4. Save time for everyone. Yes, it can be very uncomfortable speaking the truth in front of your teammates, especially when it is an unpopular opinion/perspective. However, beating around the bush by tossing out generalizations and asking uninformed questions only serves to waste time (and cause frustration). 
  5. Make better decisions. When individual thoughts and perspectives are not honestly and openly shared, the truth cannot be revealed. As a result, we end up making decisions based on generalizations and misinformation. That’s certainly not a formula for success.

The sooner you and your team become more comfortable speaking for themselves and being direct about their thoughts and perspectives, you’ll resolve issues much more effectively and efficiently. I strongly recommend giving these two very simple tactics/rules a try. (And, if you have a chance to hear Eric’s full workshop – or read his book – I strongly recommend doing so.)

Jeff Freedman
CEO/Managing Partner
Small Army | Finn Partners