Mike was the manager of a large retail giant. He was tasked with running multiple stores across various regions of the country. His team was split between Melbourne and Sydney and there was skepticism and apprehension between the groups. Mike struggled to keep all members up to speed on strategies, priorities and the overall performance of the business. The situation got so bad that during an offsite, the teams opted to have dinner separately at two different restaurants.

In the past, teams typically consisted of a stable set of homogeneous members who worked face-to-face and tended to have similar mindsets. This is no longer the case. Thanks to globalisation, digitalisation and everything in between, we are now seeing an increase in flexible working hours, remote working solutions, diverse teams with baby boomers and millennials working together, an increase in online digital meetings, and teams that are spread across continents.

Teams are especially prone to the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ thinking in today’s world, and I come across this conversation frequently in my work. The solution is to develop a shared mindset among team members. This is something team leaders can do by fostering a common identity and common understanding.

The quickest way to bring teams to a shared mindset is to focus on whom they are serving. The moment the conversation becomes objective (customer centric), it is easier to remind the team that it has one common purpose—to serve. Sometimes this means serving each other and sometimes it means serving the customer.

Two of my favourite questions to ask when tying to foster a common identity among a divided team are:

  1. What’s best for the business?
  2. What’s best for the customer?

These questions disarm any defensiveness, dissolve a sense of separation and normally remind people that everyone is on the same side—no walls. Sometimes we focus too much on differences and forget what we have in common.

(Back to Mike and his awkward night where his teams ate at separate restaurants.) Once he realised how high the walls were between his Melbourne and Sydney office, he intently brought the team together several more times over the next few months and created a shared experience with common references and stories about how they were all creating a greater service experience for customers. Eventually he chipped away at the wall that divided them. This helped change the team’s view of ‘us and them’ to ‘we’.

Sometimes we need team leaders to point out how dependent team members are on each other for success.

Jaquie Scammell

‘Love Being in Service’

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