Team Guilt / by Katie DeConto

By Katie DeConto


Working on a team is wonderful and difficult. It stands to reason that this is because human relationships are wonderful and difficult, but we're here today to talk particularly about teams in the workplace. 

Between Mercury Studio, The Makery, The Pinkerton Raid, and Community Chorus Project, I am a part of a great many lovely teams. I have many jobs and wear many hats - I'm sure you can relate. One of the great challenges of this kind of work is building and maintaining a healthy and productive team culture and dynamic. One of the great pitfalls of team work - particularly teams that are not governed by any sort of outside authority - is to project your own performance guilt onto your team members. This is easy to do and very dangerous.

A team member may say

"Hey Katie. What did you do last night?"

They mean this in an innocent, curious, relationship-building sort of way. They are really just making conversation, but because I feel guilty about my performance on our team, I assume what they're really asking is

"Hey Katie. What did you do last night instead of reply to that important email?"

Then, I get irritated with their passive aggressiveness and treat them poorly. This, obviously, makes them feel badly and confused, and both of us are distracted, and our team is all-of-a-sudden not meeting its potential.

Bad news.

How do we avoid this? It's really pretty simple. In fact, it's the same way you fix most human relationship problems:

communication and trust-building.

If my team member and I, before this made up conversation, had talked about my feeling overwhelmed and dissatisfied with my performance - if I had been honest about this and they had met my honesty with grace, understanding, and affirmation - then when they asked me what I did last night, I would be much more likely to know that they didn't mean anything by it.  Voi la. Healthier team.

The flip side of this is recognizing when team members are behaving in an unusually negative way and reflecting on how you might be participating in their negativity. If I have a team member who is being slightly aloof and unusually aggressive, for instance, I might think to myself "When was the last time I let that person know that they're doing a great job and that I see how hard they're trying." A simple word of affirmation can often free a person from their own performance guilt or feelings of neglect and instantly make them a better person to work with and a healthier human.

All the challenges of human relationships cannot be solved with honesty, empathy, or a kind word, but I believe that if we tried those things first, we'd be surprised at the success rate.


Note from Katie:

One of our dreams for Mercury Studio is that it is a healthy place, buzzing with people working independently and also forming teams to do things they can't do on their own. Feeling isolated as an independent? Come visit Mercury Studio! We love visitors.