What do Cartoon Thought Bubbles Have to do with Teams?

The Implications of Thought Bubbles

Thought Bubbles in Action on a Team

“I feel like Switzerland and I just want to bash their heads together.”  Sarah was exasperated with two members of her team and was telling me how tired she was of listening to their stories and how awkward team meetings were becoming.

“What would happen if you told them that? Perhaps not about bashing their heads together but about how you feel? How might that change things for you and your team?” It had never occurred to Sarah to do this and there was quite a long silence. By the end of our conversation she realized how her silence had been contributing to keeping the unhealthy dynamic between her two colleagues going. She also realized that there was some risk in actually letting them in on her “real” thoughts, but that the potential gains could outweigh the risks.

It’s pretty common for people not to reveal their true thoughts in team situations. Sometimes it relates to being conflict avoidant, sometimes to groupthink, sometimes to an overly “politically correct” culture on the team, and sometimes to fear of being vulnerable all of which are demonstrated in the cartoon above.  Whatever the case, if you find yourself going over situations long after they’re over and feeling unsettled, it may be time for you to examine the role that your “thought bubbles” are playing.  Here’s one of my own examples and how I dealt with it:

I’ve worked with many co-facilitators over the years to deliver various training programs and inevitably the program has some sort of evaluation form. Most times the form lists each person’s name and then asks for an individual rating of each person. This has always bothered me in that if we are working as a team and co-delivering a program, I think we should be rated as a team, not individuals. Inevitably, if rated individually, one member’s ratings will always be the lowest and one member’s ratings will always be the highest. It sets up a competitive and uncomfortable dynamic. So, I have been dealing with this for years and finally (sometimes I am a slow learner too!) I followed the 4 steps I recommend to others:

  1. What role have your thoughts and feelings in your thought bubble played in the situation unfolding as it has? Whenever the topic of evaluation comes up on a team, I get uncomfortable and a bit cranky and end up not participating meaningfully and saying things like “I hate evaluations … we get feedback along the way so what’s the point?” I end up having a conversation that doesn’t really capture my true thoughts and probably frustates my team members.
  2. What are the risks and opportunities of sharing your thought bubble? The risk is that someone might disagree with my suggestion to do a team rating and think that I am insecure about my own abilities, that the real reason I want a team rating is so I don’t end up at the bottom. The opportunity is that at least I can be more honest and authentic about why the topic of evaluation bothers me and perhaps even have my team agree with a team rating.
  3. What would need to change in order for you to share your thought bubble? I just need to be more confident about my own opinion, that I have given the matter some thought and that it’s not a suggestion I make lightly. The other thing that needs to change is to bring up the topic when we have time to more fully discuss it instead of at the last minute during a program.
  4. What’s a small step you can take to bring more of your thought bubble to team conversations? I can suggest that the next time we do a program that we add the evaluation form to our initial planning sessions.  I can also then preface my comments with “I’ve been thinking about this a lot and was wondering if we could …?

I’m pleased to report that I did indeed bring up this topic and that the outcome was positive. It allowed me to be more authentic and it allowed my team members to get to understand my perspective a bit better.

While this was a positive outcome, sometimes your reflections might lead you to conclude that it is simply too risky to share your thought bubble. If this is the case, then you need to find a way to let go of the issue and not let it continue to permeate your thoughts and, therefore, your presence and interaction on the team.  How to do THAT is another blog post …

This blog is based on the 10 of Diamonds, Sharing Thought Bubbles, taken from our Teamwork Explorer.

Sharing Thought Bubbles

Sharing Thought Bubbles

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: