When Leaders have Each Other’s Backs, Teams Have Less Tangles

Thu, Mar 11, 2010

Team EffectivenessJake Pavelka, the Bachelor (yes, I secretly watch the show—I am a romantic at heart) said that he wanted to find a mate who “had his back.” I have facilitated dozens of team effectiveness offsites and invariably participants will claim that they either want to know their teammates have their backs, or recall that their highest performing teams were those with members who “had their backs.”  I am not sure when or how the term entered the lexicon. I know that it is permeating the language now and particularly in team settings.

So what does it mean when someone has your back? I imagine that if I were going into a dangerous situation and brought along a buddy, I would want to know that if I got into trouble, my friend would rescue me. He would have my back. Likewise, if I were in a situation where I was criticized, I would know someone had my back if they verbally defended me. I know that my husband has my back when we are with my in-laws and he doesn’t let them put me down.

Knowing that someone has your back in a work setting turns out to be more complex. I worked with a leadership team at Uptown Robotics *that on the surface had some trust issues. They wanted to be a more cohesive team, yet had challenges communicating directly to each other. The team had to implement some unpopular initiatives company-wide and needed to communicate a uniform message. When each went into their respective internal client group, they had to tow the company line. Not everyone did and in fact, some bad mouthed their peers, and then flatly denied it. This led to suspicion and lack of trust.  Untangling these kinds of misunderstandings takes time, maturity, and usually outside facilitation.

Many leadership tangles start when one peer verbally compromises another, intentionally or unintentionally. When leadership teams are not working in lockstep to implement new processes, policies, or procedures that are new, different, and unpopular, the tangle is not just with the leadership team. Communication between functions is compromised. When leaders have each other’s backs, they work more effectively and avoid human dynamics messes.

If you have a leadership team that does not fully have each other’s backs, contact info@rubenconsulting.com for a complimentary consultation.

*The name of the company is fictionalized to protect identity and confidentiality. Aspects of the story have also been changed.  

Marcia Ruben Ph.D, PCC, CMC

Marcia Ruben Ph.D, PCC, CMC

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