Organizations are messy. Because they are made of humans. And humans are unpredictable animals. If you work in a business that trades in creativity, like I do, you deal with even more interesting dynamics. One of the challenges of professional creativity is that it tries to combine professionalism with non-traditional thinking and behaviors.  These can make for strange bedfellows. (Why do we say bedfellows?  Why couldn’t it be umbrellafellows? Or picnicblanketfellows? Or pewfellows?)

Sometimes teamwork is magical.  Other times it is, well, not magical.

Because when humans are involved things go wrong. In fact, there are things that go wrong in organizations every day.  It is not the avoidance of mistakes that makes a company great. It is how we respond to those mistakes that determines the health and strength of the organization and its culture.

I have discovered a very simple guiding principle that helps organizations thrive, even when things go wrong. It’s The Assumption of Positive Intent. It requires that everyone on the team assumes that the actions, choices, statements and decisions of others were made with positive intentions.

It comes down to believing that your teammates are good people who mean well. Even when their intentions aren’t clearly understood.

At the advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, the Assumption of Positive Intent is core to our culture. This simple assumption has a number of positive effects.  First, it makes us all see each other as good people. It makes me feel better to feel like I am surrounded by good people who want to do good things. High morals and ethical standards are important. We should believe in each other and support one another until we have irrefutable proof that we should not.

The next benefit of the Assumption of Positive Intent is that it encourages people to take action. Make a move, make an impact, make a difference. We’ll support you. We won’t crucify you if it doesn’t work out perfectly. Because we assume you want to make great things happen. Even if an attempt fails. So go ahead, introduce New Coke. Have Kendall Jenner hand a cop a Pepsi. Or stick your chocolate in my peanut butter.  One of those things will work.

The word assumption often has a negative connotation in business and other performance-oriented environments. Because it indicates that we make judgements or decide without knowing. We’ve all heard the saying that when you assume you makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’.  While that is a clever word play, the statement fails to recognize an important reality.  When you assume positive intent, you give people the benefit of the doubt. You presume the good. You believe in the best or most optimistic scenario.  And when you believe in good, you believe in people. This builds a culture of trust.

A Simple 5-Step Formula.

When you encounter an action that you don’t understand try these 5 simple steps:

  1. Assume positive intent
  2. Talk about the issue with the person or people involved.
  3. Make it clear that you assume they meant well and seek a better understanding.
  4. Listen for understanding
  5. Play back what you heard.

I believe in people. I think we all want to be part of a great team  The best way to set our teams up for the greatest success it to minimize the stress on the relationships between teammates. If we assume positive intent at all times, we will get the best out of each other. We will enjoy the attempts. Even when they #fail.

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4 thoughts on “The first step to make your team work.

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