The Complexity of People on Teams

If you’ve been treating people the way they treat you, you might be causing a world of unnecessary stress on your team.

I think most of us who have been working for a while have realized that the Golden Rule doesn’t work in organizations. You know—that old gem “do unto others as you would have done unto you.” I stopped thinking that people would want to be treated the same way as I do long ago (about the time I threw the equivalent of a ticker tape parade as recognition for a very shy employee—whoops).

If you’re like me, you replaced the Golden Rule with the best alternative you could find—you started treating people the way they were treating you. Doesn’t that make sense: people behave the way they want to be treated? Well…no. It’s not that simple.

In Knightsbridge’s Vital Teams™ process, we use the Birkman® assessment tool to get data about how people need to be treated. In my opinion, it’s the best thing out there for inspiring breakthroughs on teams. This tool helps people understand the difference between a person’s usual style (the healthy, adaptive way they have learned to succeed in the world) and their needs (the unconscious expectations they have about how the world works). 

Turns out that for many people, the way they behave and the way they need to be treated bare little resemblance. Understanding the disconnect between a person’s needs and behaviour is crucial to a healthy team. A lot of the most Toxic Teams we work with get that way because a couple of key people need to be treated very differently from the way they behave themselves. In fact, treating them the way they act can be extremely stressful for them—causing them to derail and act in a self-protective way that can be damaging for the whole team.

Once we help the team understand how to get the best out of these people, the worst of the conflict disappears.

People often ask whether these people are disingenuous or manipulative. The answer is absolutely not!  Our experiences when we’re young shape our expectations of the world. They lay the foundation for what we’ll need to be productive at work.

In a completely separate process, we learn how to behave as we work in different organizations and different roles. This learned behavior is healthy and productive. But it’s not really who we are.

If you have someone on your team who always seems to be stressed out, maybe they aren’t getting their basic needs met. I would recommend investing in a great tool like the Birkman® to take a look under the hood. 

Try getting to know your teammates on this deeper level. By meeting people’s most basic needs, you’ll see a lot more of their best characteristics and a lot less of that nasty stressed-out behavior.