July 6, 2021

What I Hear When You Say "My Team..."

Try replacing "my" with "the" and see if something happens.

This is more of a blurt than a blog. It will be short enough to avoid classification as a rant. If you’re getting this via email, you signed up for it. If you’re having opt-in remorse, scroll down and make it right. If you got to this via a search engine, I have no idea how. Mea culpa.

Almost everyone I work with uses the phrase “my team” when they refer to the people who report up to them. The only exception is CEOs, who often say “the executive/senior leadership team.” Who cares? Why bother? Why are you reading instead of digging back into The Overstory to try in advance to keep those all seemingly unrelated threads straight for the big payoff at the end?

Because I hate it. I mean, I don’t really hate it. It’s just been gnawing at me, like when Whole Foods willy nilly changes the supplier for grab-and-go chicken dumplings and your go-to COVID staple becomes unattainable, replaced by bland, tasteless blobs. Ok. Maybe I do really hate it.

Here’s why. When I hear senior leaders say that “my team will do X” or “my team thinks Y,” I know it’s said with positive intent. In truth, that leader likely is the best spokesperson for the people who report up to and through her. That said, when she uses this phrasing, I feel it creates a detrimental perceptual boundary between different teams at a company. It undermines a sense of permeability across teams that, in my view, promotes enhanced cross-functional relationships, synergy, and adherence to the company (alongside team) goals. People often hire me to help break down silos. Don’t hire me. Skip it. Save time and money.

Start here: Instead of referring to “my team,” if you are a Chief Product Officer, refer to the team as “the product team.” Not only is this tip totally actionable and compact, it may offer other benefits.

Here’s one: instead of people on the product team feeling like they are the mere chattel of the head of the department, they get a chance to feel like independent individuals who make a choice to work together with their collaborators on the product team and other teams at the company. Heck, they get to be identified as working at the company as a whole (see above point re: silos). They get more agency, more independence, and that should result in stronger commitment and alignment around team and company goals because, in advancing those, they are advancing their own personal (as individuals) goals.

I need here to own that I have a major below-the-line trigger to the notion of being possessed (by an authority figure or a poltergeist). So I may be overreacting.

Still, try it on. See if it feels different to you. Ask the people who report to you if it feels different to them. Ask your peers on the executive team if it feels different to them.

And then tell me on Twitter.

📷: Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

Sue Heilbronner

Sue Heilbronner is an executive coach, Conscious Leadership facilitator, and catalyst for change.

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