Over the last three decades, marriage specialists have researched the ingredients of a happy marriage. As a result, we know more about building a successful marriage today than ever before.
The cool thing is ... team building experts have researched the ingredients of an effective team for about the same amount of time. And their findings are quite similar. What makes a happy marriage tends to make an effective team and vice versa.
When I worked in sales, occasionally I'd hear a fellow salesperson say, "Selling wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the customers." And when I taught at the university, occasionally I'd hear another professor say, "I really enjoy teaching. It's the students I can't stand."
What they didn't understand was RELATIONSHIP ... the importance of relationship and the process of relationship. And the same thing could be said about a marriage relationship or a team relationship. There are 10 things you've got to know and got to do if you're going to make it all work...
- Get a realistic understanding of what a relationship can and cannot do.
As marriage therapists Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott say, "Marriage is, in actual fact, just a way of living. Before marriage, we don't expect life to be all sunshine and roses, but we seem to expect marriage to be that way." And, "Debunking the myth of eternal romance will do more than just about anything to help you build a lifelong, happy marriage."
I agree. I'm reminded of an attorney who handles many divorce cases who told me that the number one reason two people split up is that they "refuse to accept the fact that they are married to a human being." The belief in a "happily-ever-after marriage" is one of the most widely held and destructive marriage myths today.
Likewise, corporate teams would be well off to get a realistic understanding of a team relationship. Teams are just another way of working. And there WILL be problems ... that WILL require some patience and skill to get to the outcomes you want.
- Get a realistic perception of the other person.
The most dramatic loss experienced in a new marriage is the idealized image the two partners have of one another. Sooner or later, reality will hit the two people squarely in the face: that they did not marry the person they thought they did.
That's why author John Fisher advises, "The success of a marriage comes not in finding the 'right' person, but in the ability of both partners to adjust to the real person they inevitably realize they married."
Similarly, if you're on a team at work, take some time to get to know each other. The more you understand each other's strengths, use those strengths, and work around their weaknesses, the stronger your team will be.
- Engage in meaningful communication.
According to Gary Smalley, the author of several books on marital communication, "Many couples, thinking they know each other intimately, have actually lived on a superficial level for years. Unfortunately, marriages of this type are the norm rather than the exception." In essence, they have failed to communicate. Oh, they may talk, but that's quite different than real communication. Talking is sharing facts, such as "I'll be home at five ... and ... Let's have spaghetti for dinner." Communication is spending quality time together ... sharing who you really are, what you think, and how you feel.
But many adults are afraid of sharing their feelings ... or are "too busy" for any in-depth communication with their spouse. As a result, these people find themselves ten years into a marriage and still very lonely. They discover that their loneliness has nothing to do with their proximity to the other person. It comes from a lack of deeper, ongoing communication.
As Patrick Morely points out, "The natural course, if untended, is to drift apart and become the proverbial two ships passing in the night." That's why I wrote my book on "Brave Questions: Building Stronger Relationships By Asking All The Right Questions." It's a powerful tool for any relationship on and off the job. As certified personal trainer Jimi Varner writes: "Dr. Zimmerman, around 4 months ago, I purchased your incredible, thought-provoking book on 'Brave Questions,' and have seen the miraculous effects it's had my relationship with my soon-to-be fiancé. Although practical and simple, we have found it extremely beneficial to all of our relationships and highly recommend it to anybody in need of urgent or not-yet-so urgent relationship repair!"
Just so you're clear. All of this talk about "meaningful communication" applies to work teams as well. The team that takes time to ask questions, to listen, to build the relationships amongst the team members, does better than the team that always keeps its nose to the grindstone, focusing on the "business" every waking moment.
- Stay focused on your goal.
It's what distinguishes two people who are "merely" living together and two people who are "truly" married. Truly married people have a common goal they are pursuing. It's what distinguishes a group of people from a team as well. The group may work near each other or around each other, but a team has a common goal they all are trying to accomplish. And when you can't see your goal, you're going to have problems.
That became clear to me through the presentation of another speaker at a Low Alpine sales meeting, an outdoor equipment manufacturer. The speaker talked about climbing Mt. Everest ... the skills it took, the dangers that had to be handled, the people who made it to the top, and those who didn't.
But just before he finished his presentation, he asked the audience a question. He remarked, "There's a time when you're climbing when you almost feel depressed. You feel so low and down you're not sure you can continue. Do you know when that is?"
The audience shouted out their answers ... such things as ... when you first begin the climb, when you only have 100 yards left, when you reach the top, and when you begin your descent. No one was even close. He said, "Climbers get down when bad weather sets in." He went on to explain that when bad weather sets in you can't see the peak. You lose sight of your GOAL and become easily distracted and sometimes even depressed.
Of course, you might be wondering what this has to do with marriage or teamwork. There's a very clear correlation. Like a mountain climber who can't see the peak, marriages and teams who can't see their clearly defined goals are more susceptible to distractions and more likely to waste their time on the less important things in life. So ask yourself if your marriage has a clearly defined goal. If not, get one. And the same goes for your team. Get a goal and keep your eye on the goal.
- Respect differences.
In the initial stages of a relationship, differences tend to attract. We find them fascinating. But often times, those same differences can become a source of irritation later on in the relationship.
That's too bad, because differences are the source of power ... when they're acknowledged, respected, and utilized. Dr. Ernest Bormann, one of the world's leading researchers on team effectiveness and my Ph.D. advisor, found indisputable evidence that the best teams were always composed of a variety of people with a variety of skills. The variety of talent allowed these team mates to find the best solutions that combined the best of everyone's input.
So when it comes to your team ... or your relationship ... learn to celebrate the differences and learn to use each other's strengths. Don't waste your time trying to pound the differences out of the other person or make the other person just like you. It's self-defeating, and it won't work anyway.
For starters, Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott say, "You'll always find exceptions to the rule, but research and experience consistently point to a fundamental and powerful distinction between the sexes: Men focus on achievement; women focus on relationships. It sounds overly simplistic, and it probably is. But remembering this general rule can save every couple wear and tear on their marriage and strengthen their bond."
- Maintain a positive attitude.
Few things are more contagious and powerful than attitudes. And the attitude you bring to your marriage or your team will have a HUGE impact on the results you get.
As the world's leading authority on attitudes, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale declared, "There is a basic law that like attracts like. Negative thinking definitely attracts negative results. Conversely, if a person habitually thinks optimistically and hopefully, his positive thinking sets in motion creative forces, and success ...instead of eluding him ... flows toward him."
I couldn't agree with him more. I've seldom if ever seen a happy marriage or an effective team staffed with negative people. As author Tom Blandi puts it, "Our attitudes control our lives. Attitudes are a secret power working 24 hours a day for good or bad. It is of paramount importance that we know how to harness and control this great force."
Notice Blandi says you have to "harness and control this great force." In other words, your attitudes are changeable and controllable.
So don't cop out like so many negative people do ... saying they could be positive if they had a different job, lived in a better place, married a different person, or were teamed up with brighter colleagues. The truth is attitudes and happiness are not hinged upon better circumstances. A person with bad attitudes will still be a person with bad attitudes ... wherever and with whomever he or she lives and works ... unless he/she learns how to get and keep a better attitude.
- Spend some significant time together.
The philosopher Paul Tournier got right to the point. He wrote, "To love is to give one's time. We never give the impression that we care when we are in a hurry."
In today's crazy busy world, there are few resources more precious than time. It's so much easier to give our partners things than time. And it's easier to give our team mates quick advice and walk off than spend time on discussion and decision making.
By contrast, one of my clients, AstraZeneca, the pharmaceutical company, knows about the importance of spending time with others and on others. After Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans in August of 2005, most of the conventions pulled out of the city ... which only lead to further financial devastation. But not AstraZeneca. They came in a few months later with the biggest convention the city had seen since Katrina.
As Rick Reid told me, "After noticing some neighborhoods and buildings in disarray, I noticed the eyes of the local people. Many looked tired, and some seemed almost without hope. As I and my fellow coworkers began to work in their neighborhoods and struck up conversations with the locals, their faces changed from despair to glimmers of brightness."
Rick continued, "Attendees at the AstraZeneca meeting were given the chance to volunteer in community activities for a day in the middle of the week. Hundreds helped the local 'Katrina Krewe' to clear debris from city streets. A couple hundred worked with the local 'REX' organization to landscape a school's grounds, and plant trees. A couple dozen worked on the Dr. Seuss exhibit at the local children's museum in preparation for its reopening. Forty went and helped to prepare the University's Women's and Children's Clinic to reopen. I worked with 50 others to repaint a wing of exam rooms in the University's 100-year old building that housed its primary care clinic. If you want to know what color, I'll show you my shirt."
The key point Rick made was all about time. He finished his letter to me by saying, "Prior to arriving in New Orleans, I was thinking that the main solution to getting things back to normal there would be more money. And indeed, my company has donated over $5 million in cash and medicines. Then I realized all this money helps, but so very much more is needed. Many workers, waiters, housekeepers, and even musicians came up to individuals in our group and thanked us for coming. It was our presence there ... it was our time spent with them ... that seemed to signal the beginning of a return to normal."
Rick has a lesson for all of us. If you want your relationship to work, if you want your team to succeed, then there's no substitute for time. You've got to spend time with each other and on each other.
- Build your friendship.
I saw a sign a while ago that read, "Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me either. Just pretty much leave me alone." Of course I chuckled, but I also thought how tragic if someone actually believed the sign.
The research says that happily married people seem to know that it takes more than roses and romance to make a relationship work. It takes friendship, even being best friends to one another.
After all, best friends don't leave when the going gets tough. They stick by you, giving you the kind of encouragement that comes from not only knowing you well, but loving you anyway. They don't give up when things look impossible. They hold you accountable without shaming you. They don't even mind if you tell the same story you've told them before, because they like to see you laugh. And like any other quality relationship, a friendship is built. It doesn't just happen.
The same is true of healthy, productive teams. The team members tend to be friends or at least friendly with one another. That's why meetings, conferences, and conventions are so critically important. In addition to learning new information and picking up some new strategies, team members get to know each other. And all things being equal, people tend to buy from and cooperate with people they know, like, and trust.
- Have some fun together.
As Bill and Lynne Hybels, long-time marriage counselors, say, "Even the best marriages take a tremendous amount of work. If there is no fun to balance out the work, even the most earnest spouses begin to lose motivation and energy. And the more challenging a marriage is, the more important fun is. We have learned that mutually enjoyable, fun experiences can help heal tender wounds and become a bridge across frustrating differences."
Absolutely! Have some fun together. And the less time you have for fun, the more you need it. As author William Feather (1889-1981) wrote, "Plenty of people miss their share of happiness, not because they never found it, but because they didn't stop to enjoy it."
The same thing goes for teams on the job. They obviously get a lot of work done, but they tend to accomplish more if they make time to have some fun once in a while. As the saying goes, the team that plays together stays together.
- Forgive each other.
You see ... it doesn't take a very big person to carry a grudge. It takes a big person to say, "I'm sorry ... I was wrong ... Please forgive me" or "Of course, I forgive you."
In any relationship or in any team, there will be anger, conflict, disagreements, and disappointments. The secret is to forgive the people involved, learn from the mistakes, and do better next time. And if you can't do that, you're doomed.
As author Ed Wheat sees it, "Marriage becomes a series of surprises for most of us, and one of them is how frequently we need to forgive and be forgiven ... Even the best relationship cannot remain intact for long without forgiveness."
Of course, many of you will say, "I can't forgive him for how he hurt my feelings ... I'll never forgive her for how she sabotaged me at work ... and ... I can't let that person off the hook after all he did."
If that sounds like you, you've got it all backwards. Forgiveness is not about letting the other person off the hook. It's about setting yourself free. As clergyman 'Tope Popoola says, "Bitterness and an unforgiving spirit can be likened to you taking poison and expecting that someone else would die from the effect. Forgiveness is about setting the prisoner in your heart free only to discover that all along, you had been the real prisoner."
Others of you may say you can't forgive yourself. You screwed up at home or at work and you know it. But as my good friend Dr. Bev Smallwood says in her book, This Wasn't Supposed To Happen To Me, it won't help a bit to keep on berating yourself, punishing yourself, or hating yourself. She says, "In the goal of going forward more skillfully, ongoing self-condemnation makes it LESS likely that you will now live more productively and joyfully. Yes, you need to pause and consider what happened in order to learn from it. But that pause should not become a stalled lifestyle. Look at your past mistakes, but don't stare at them."
It's kind of like the rear-view mirror in your car. It's much smaller than the windshield for a good reason. Their size is in proportion to the amount of time you should spend looking at them. Yes, you need to glance at the rear view mirror to see what's coming up behind you or what you might hit when backing up. However, the majority of your driving time must be spent looking ahead, keeping your eyes on where you're headed - not where you've been. In a similar sense, learn to forgive yourself and others, learn from the setbacks, and then look forward.
Happy marriages and effective teams have these 10 things in common. And they have nothing to do with good luck or the right genetics. It's all about knowing the right things and using the right skills.
Which of the relationship and/or team skills listed above would bring the biggest payoff to your life or your career? Then focus on what you can do to get better in that area.