Recognizing that some members of the newly formed call center engagement task force may not know each other very well, I reached for one of my favorite, go-to, get-em-talking and laughing icebreakers, two truths and a lie. My selection was met with a few “Oh, not that again” grimaces. “Ah, you’ve done that one before, huh?” Twelve heads nodded a quick yes.
I thought of the exercise I’d just read about in Lencioni’s 5 Dysfunctions of a Team Field Guide. It involves participants sharing something about their childhood that made it particularly difficult. I’ve been looking to try it, but was reluctant in an environment riddled with trust issues, particularly with a mixed group of reps, supervisors and managers.
I tipped my hand.
“A key element of trust is knowing one another at a human level. As you know, there are respect and trust issues in this center that we’re here to fix. I want to ensure you all know a bit about one another before we dive into the work. I’ve got another exercise I’ve been looking to try, but I’ve never done it before and it could be heavier than you’re ready for. How about I explain it and then you can decide?”
My explanation was met with eager, unanimous agreement to do the more difficult exercise. Before long, stories of abuse, sibling death, divorce, and poverty filled the room. Nods of understanding, words of encouragement, and knowing looks of “Me, too” quickly warmed the room. A few folks shared what was happening in their lives today.
We finished and sat for a moment silently breathing in the understanding.
After thanking them, I asked what they thought would happen if we brought any other 12 people from the center into the room for the same exercise. Everyone agreed similar stories would emerge.
So I asked the obvious question. “If you all know that people have this kind of hardship in their lives, why would you treat one another so harshly and with lack of respect?”
Again the response was unanimous.
“Because we’re strangers.”
We knew where to start our planning.
It’s tempting to assume that people want to keep their personal lives private. That we shouldn’t “go there” at work, and of course everyone has different comfort levels and strategies with such boundaries. It’s important to know that everyone in any given room has something going on that makes life hard. Making it easier to “go there” could make all the difference in the world.