‘Well! If you can’t handle it, I’ll do it!’ She almost screamed the sentence then stood up and left the meeting room. She went straight to her working space, fell in her chair and gazed through the window. She felt exasperated. Her team was not able to pull it off.
The past 2 years, she had been trying everything to give her people freedom to organise their own work: trainings on the job, off-site retreats, team coaching, individual coaching, group discussions with and without external facilitator, etc… And to a certain extent it did help, but never up to the level she was aiming for. The responsibility that came with freedom just seemed too much to bear for her team members.
She just wondered why…
What she didn’t see was the impact of her own behaviour on the group. She wanted her team to change their behaviour, yet so far, she had not questioned her own behaviour.
We mirror the behaviour of others
And this is crucial. It brings me to what in psychology is called the theory of mirroring. Mirroring is something that happens in all form of human relationship. We tend to copy the behaviour of other persons in order to connect and get accepted. If a colleague smiles at you, you probably smile back. It’s difficult to resist. Mirroring helps us understanding others’ state of mind. And therefore acts as a ‘social glue’ because we know what’s going on with the other.
And we do it on a subconscious level
Interestingly enough people will mirror behaviour on a subconscious level. If someone feels bad and answers cheerfully ‘I’m fine’ then the other person will mirror the slightly hanging head and feel the sadness, not the cheerfulness.
And exactly the same happens here. Deeply inside herself, she questions the ability of her team to take responsibility. Despite the positive words she’s using, despite all the training, her people mirror her reluctance. It’s on that level that the mirror works and thus her team members do not take responsibility.
On the surface, the team seems to be making headway. But from time to time an outburst confirms the deeper feeling and true nature of the relation between the manager and her team.
A true story
This is a true story. I was discussing meeting culture with a client and the manager of the team stressed her point by telling this story. After our discussion she became more aware of the impact of her own behaviour and which parts of it were effective and which were not.
As I left the building, I was imagining the team members in the room, left behind in bewilderment. After an endless silence one of them would say: ‘Well, I guess that concludes the meeting.’ For sure, this team would not be taking any responsibility for a long time to come!