Do Your Teammates Know Your Struggles?

November 19, 2015 liane

Work is hard. And if you toil away in solitude, it’s arduous and sometimes overwhelming. What a waste when you have teammates who can share the burden and even lighten the load. If you are struggling in silence, ask yourself why.

Why don’t you share?

Here are the most common things you tell yourself that cause you not to share your challenges:

  • I don’t want people to know that I’m struggling. I need to show that I’m capable so I will figure it out on my own.
  • My activities are so different than those of my teammates; they wouldn’t be able to help, even if they wanted to.
  • My coworkers are so busy; I don’t want to bother them with my issues.
  • No one has ever asked me.

The Benefits of Sharing

If you have been telling yourself one or more of those stories, I encourage you to think differently.

Can’t be seen to struggle. Although it seems like admitting you’re struggling is showing weakness, the vast majority of managers and teammates would prefer that you ask for help before you compromise quality or timelines. To be fair, if you throw up your hands in exasperation and say you have no clue, that’s bad. If, on the other hand, you say “I’m still not confident in the plan for the Acme launch. I’m wrestling with Marketing about the merits of a full launch versus a pilot program. How do we get to the right decision,”you’ll look mature and responsible.

They’re Irrelevant. Sure, you might have different expertise or different activities than your colleagues, but there are so many ways that they can be helpful with a challenge you’re facing. The most obvious way they might help is with a good old naïve question. You’ve lost your objectivity once you’re struggling with something and your teammates can give it back to you in a heartbeat.

I also find teammates have had similar experiences and can add significant value by helping you understand key stakeholders, honing your influence strategies, or sharing some of the approaches they have used successfully in the past.

Too Busy. Everyone is busy, so it’s easy to tell yourself that your issues aren’t worthy of their time. In my experience, people are busy doing a lot of low value work and they would LOVE to be interrupted by the chance to add real value for a co-worker. Few things are as satisfying as being able to help someone. Interestingly, once your teammate takes time to help you, it will have a beneficial effect on the trust between you—and not just how much you trust her, but how much she trusts you.

You Never Asked. It’s true, you might go weeks or months without anyone asking you what you’re struggling with, but that’s because most people (falsely) operate on the notion that “no news is good news.” If you’re facing a challenge that causes you to be less effective than you could be, you have a responsibility to voice that issue and seek assistance.

Try It

In your next team meeting, try sharing some of the things you are struggling with. You don’t need to get to each team member in one meeting. Instead, ask if you can carve out about 15 minutes for a volunteer to share something. Use these questions to move the discussion along.

  1. What is the one most challenging thing you’re struggling with at the moment?
  2. What are you trying to achieve? What will success look like?
  3. What progress have you made?
  4. Where are you finding the stumbling blocks?
  5. Who are your key stakeholders? How are they involved?
  6. How have you tried to influence the stakeholders thus far? What’s working and not working?
  7. How are your stakeholder’s definitions of success different from yours?

As you hear your teammate’s answers to these questions, provide perspective, give coaching, and suggest alternate approaches. Refrain from judging his progress and instead make him feel like he’s talking to his private advisory board. Use language such as:

  • What if you were to think about it this way…
  • How might doing [tactic] affect the response…
  • What’s another possible reason why she’s reacting that way…
  • How would it play out if you tried [approach]…
  • In my experience with [stakeholder], I’ve found her much more receptive when we’re one-on-one rather than in a meeting.
  • What if you were to frame the issue in their language. For example, talking about it as in terms of [their key metric] versus our language of [our key metric]?

At the very least, your teammate will walk away feeling supported, which is nothing to sneeze at. More likely, he will walk away feeling supported AND with a new and more productive mindset, a few hypotheses to test and some new ideas to try. That will feel a heck of a lot better for him than beating his head against a brick wall trying the same things over and over without success.

For a quicker, more fun version of this concept, check out this exercise.

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