Resist the Urge to Intervene When a Peer’s Team is Struggling
Have you ever watched another team struggle? It’s a challenge most leaders face at some point in their career. You’re not perfect, but you lead well and people come together to produce great results. But then you look over and see that your peer’s team is struggling.
Maybe they’ve been talking to your team and your people tell you about the problems. Or the other team members tell you how they’d love a chance to work with you. Perhaps you rely on them for your team’s work, but their performance is subpar. Maybe you witnessed their dysfunction firsthand. Or someone on another team asks you for advice on how to deal with a difficult situation.
No matter how you became aware that your peer’s team is struggling, you might be tempted to rush in and intervene.
Don’t Make It Worse
This is one of those times where your good intentions can cause big problems.
Let’s start with common mistakes you want to avoid. Don’t:
- Rush in and tell the other team what they need to do.
- Tell the other team members that their leader is wrong or leading poorly.
- Offer the other leader a bunch of solutions to all the problems you’ve identified.
I’ve seen leaders commit these mistakes (and did some myself early in my career). Each of these behaviors will make the situation worse.
Imagine another leader telling your team how you’re leading poorly or telling you everything you’re doing wrong and how to fix it. Bad idea, right?
How to Help When Your Peer’s Team is Struggling
The first step in trying to help a peer leader who might be struggling is to recognize your limitations. You have two important limits in this situation. You don’t have all the information and they may not want your help.
This is a time for confidence and humility. Match your confident desire to help with the humility that you don’t know everything that’s happening in the other team.
Let’s look at how to do this in the two most common scenarios where your peer’s team is struggling.
Scenario #1: You’ve Seen the Problem Yourself
If you’ve observed the problems and you’re talking with the team’s leader, use the first steps of the INSPIRE conversation to alert them to the situation. When you reach the “Probe” stage of the conversation, ask if they want your help.
I – Initiate: Hey, do you have a minute? I was working with your team the other day and observed something I thought you’d want to know.
N – Notice: I noticed that they were [describe the concerning behavior]. Eg: “I noticed they were using the old process to…” Or “I noticed that they were arguing about the right way to…”
S – Support: Share your specific examples. Eg: “Joe and Sheila said they didn’t know there was a new process.” Or “Liz and Charles were telling Estaban and Bryan that they should use the…and they didn’t seem to be on the same page.”
P – Probe: “I figured you’d want to know. How can I help?”
If you have a good relationship and your colleague trusts you, they may divulge their struggle. They might say something like “This is so frustrating. I’ve told everyone about the new process three times.”
I – Invite: It is important in this moment to get their permission – their invitation, to share ideas. Resist the urge to rush in with all your solutions. You might say something like: “I’ve been there. That same problem used to frustrate me. I’ve got a couple ideas that have worked pretty well. Would that be helpful?”
If they say “yes,” go ahead and share your thoughts. Remember to share them as possible solutions. They may or may not work, depending on your peer’s specific situation.
If they say “no,” this is a critical moment for your relationship. When they say “no,” respect their no.
People say no for many reasons. They’re not ready. He may feel overwhelmed. She might not trust your motives. They may not want to do the work.
Regardless of the reason why, when someone says they don’t want to hear your solutions, respect their desire. It builds trust. You might say something like, “Okay. If I can be helpful, just let me know.”
R – Review: As the conversation concludes, do a quick check for understanding. Eg: “So you’re going to try that 5×5 communication technique and I’ll send you the templates I developed by the end of the day. Does that work for you?”
If they turned down your offer to help, your check for understanding might look like this: “I want to make sure we’re on the same page. My understanding is that our teams are supposed to do the new process this way. Is that how you understand it?”
E – Enforce: In performance management conversations, this is where you would schedule a follow-up meeting to check on the new behavior. In a conversation with a colleague, however, you might use it as a way to support them. “If you’d like, I’d be happy to hear a test-run of your presentation or take a look at that 5×5 when you’ve put it together.”
If your colleague turned down your offer to help and there is disagreement about the expectations, you can use this step to schedule a follow-up discussion. “It sounds like we’ve got our teams working toward different goals (or using different processes). My understanding was that we’re all using the process. Let’s talk with the leadership team (or our supervisor) on Friday and clarify what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Scenario #2: Their Team Member Tells You It’s Bad
When another team member tells you that their team is struggling, resist the urge to intervene.
Once again, you don’t know all the facts. Also, when you get involved, you prevent the employee from learning how to solve their own problem and you’re wasting your productive time in someone else’s drama.
(The exception is when there’s a potential ethical violation, a clear breach of fundamental policy, sexual harassment, danger to employees or the company – in these situations you would report the conversation to the right person.)
Usually, the most productive conversation you can have is to listen with empathy and, if the team member wants help, to coach them on how to address the situation.
Start with reflective empathy. For example: “It sounds like that’s really frustrating.”
Next, you might use the 9 What’s coaching model to help them think through a productive response to the situation. If they don’t know how to talk with their leader about an issue and they are open to help, you could teach them how to share INSPIRE-style feedback with their supervisor.
For example, when they talk to their supervisor, they might say, “I noticed that we’re not using the new procedure we discussed at the town hall and I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing. Can you help me clarify what success looks like here?”
When you help the employee develop the skills to address the situation directly, they will grow and it also gives the team leader a chance to improve.
When your peer’s team is struggling, you may be tempted to intervene, but that is usually not a productive choice. Instead, ask your colleague for permission to help, respect their answer, and mentor receptive team members on how to advocate for themselves.
Leave us a comment and share your best recommendation or experience when you see that a peer’s team is struggling.