Can you create something by creating the appearance of something? Can a team increase its output by looking busy? Does “fake it til you make it” work with team culture?
It sounds ridiculous to suggest pretending can make it real, but smiling can make a person feel happier, and Botox can make a person less able to feel emotions they are unable to express.
When it comes to team culture, many managers work hard to create an appearance of inclusivity without creating the environment to support it. Writing mission statements is a lot easier than letting go of employees because they won’t use other team members’ preferred pronouns.
While this strategy isn’t always self-defeating, after spending years working on and building teams that support each other at every level, there’s one thing they all have in common: leaders who actively embrace humility.
More than anything else, a focus on humility and learning is at the heart of teams that function well:
When I started the role I’m in now I felt woefully underprepared, but in retrospect I was being overly self-critical and a realistic self-assessment wasn’t really possible.
Teams that strive to hire people from different backgrounds can do the hard work when the team culture needs to improve. When I started the role I’m in now I felt woefully underprepared, but in retrospect I was being overly self-critical and a realistic self-assessment wasn’t really possible.
When we decide to put on a brave face and tell everyone we’re ready for a big challenge, the trick is being aware of it. When you first go out for lead engineer, you’re aware that you’ll be stretching your muscles, and the same should be true of your team.
Instead of misrepresenting where your team is at, try the honest version: “This is new territory for us but we’re excited to figure it out.” Or: “We’re aware that other companies don’t do a great job of this and we want to do better. We don’t have all the answers but we’re willing to learn.”
When you look at yourself as a pioneer ready to meet the challenges of new territory, pushing yourself to do better than your competition, team culture can be just as much of an ‘edge’ as technical innovation. So while I wouldn’t recommend dishonesty, I love it when teams admit they’re up for a challenge.
It can seem so arrogant to overreach! To push ourselves to do something harder than before. But the awareness of that reach is what’s driven me to career success.
Because in the end when I was in unfamiliar territory, trying to make new and exciting business relationships happen for my team, I was fully aware that I was out of my comfort zone. That awareness led me to do the work and stay humble. It’s perfectly fine to convince others that we know what we’re doing, it’s when we convince ourselves that this is easy that humility can slip into arrogance.
Humility really is the key: if we maintain self-awareness then we know that success is not assured. We’re willing to do the research, to take good advice, and when all else fails to just ask for what we want or need to know.
No one writes a new web service that can take a million users on its first day. Success isn’t about doing the things we’re prepared to do, it’s about scaling to the challenges we’re brave enough to face.