How to find common ground to deepen your work relationships.
Meaningful engagement within the workplace can be challenging. The consistent hum of “productivity” often lends itself to unintentional silos that develop barriers between departments or individual colleagues. Moreover, those in leadership roles often find it difficult to engage with those they lead. What will my employees think? How do I maintain professionalism while also being authentic? Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them.” I like to think this connects directly with staff engagement; just when you think you have established your limits…take it to the next level.
When I first began my journey in school leadership, one of my coaches advised me not to smile until halfway through the school year. This coach really believed that a school leader should put on a “front” to students, parents and your teaching staff. Needless to say, I could not be without my smile. What I did realize is that the more transparent I was with my team of teachers, the more willing they were to trust me. The more I allowed them to feel comfortable sharing, the more we could band together as a team to serve students. There was something special about deeply knowing who you are serving alongside.
So how does one engage meaningfully with their teammates? Before you begin this endeavor, I want you to think about the bigger idea of culture. All of your staff are balancing multiple cultures: family culture, workplace culture, possibly church culture, etc. Beginning with this knowledge helps you see more of the person in front of you to understand it is not just their role as teacher or employee that defines them – this is only one slice of the pie. “Being culturally engaged is not always easy, and it doesn’t come naturally to all people. In fact, many people find it easier to operate in a disengaged mode; it is less risky and doesn’t require the mental, emotional, and sometimes physical stretch that true engagement requires. The three main barriers to cultural engagement are fear, prejudice, and pain,” from The 6 Stages of Cultural Mastery.
Using the text The 6 Stages of Cultural Mastery (can be ordered HERE), we have identified the three barriers to engaging: fear, prejudice and pain. Let’s look at how to move forward to authentic engagement with those you lead and work alongside:
- Know what is manageable for YOU. Plain and simple, if you begin engaging with teammates in ways that do not matter to you, common ground will not be established.
- Establish a plan of action. Do you need to have the perfect work plan or action planning template? No, but you should set deliverables and goals for yourself. Your plan of action should be built upon a clear objective. Do you really care about engaging with this staff member? If not, you should pause as your lack authenticity will show through. Think deeply about why you want to engage with this team member and establish your first steps.
- Understand the person you are engaging with. Evaluate what you already know about this person. If it is not too much, you may need to engage in a couple purposeful learning conversations before determining a common way to engage with one another.
- Determine how the two of you will engage. After establishing a deeper understanding about the colleague, you should be able to determine an activity together. For example, you are coaching a teacher and she needs help planning for a Literacy unit and realize you could work alongside her to develop unit questions. You offer to go with her for one hour after school, have coffee (because you both love Starbucks) and establish the enduring understandings and guiding questions for the text she selected.
- Assess your engagement. How has this process been working? Did you achieve your desired outcomes? Have you developed a deeper appreciation, value and understanding of who this individual is? Have you identified further skills and attributes they offer than you ever realized before? Did you genuinely enjoy your engagement with this person? Do you think both of you will be able to work smarter as a result of deepening your relationship?
Sometimes we make getting to know those we work most closely with more difficult than it has to be. Our team members matter and each have a unique story they are waiting to share with those who will listen. Who will you engage with today?
Justine González, is a former elementary and high school turnaround administrator and teacher. She is the Founder and President of Educator Aide, a company specializing in school transformation through cultural mastery.