I was facilitating a strategic planning offsite for one of my clients. They started by defining their mission – who they wanted to be in their organization. The idea they came up with was that they wanted to be “The Collaboration Team.” Any time anyone else in the company started a major project they wanted to be known as the team to call, the best collaborators around. They were pretty proud of themselves for this. There were high fives all around.
The following day they were discussing a project and another group was mentioned. Immediately they joined together in an outcry of frustration and criticism.
- “The other group is political.”
- “Their work isn’t as good as ours.”
- “They don’t try as hard as we do.”
- “They’re manipulative.”
On and on it went. Finally I stopped them.
I said, “Wait a second. Don’t you want to be The Collaborative Team? You can’t be that team if this is the way you talk about your peers.”
There was silence. So I continued.
“If they were meeting somewhere this week and your names came up, what do you think they would say about you?”
After a long pause their leader finally said, “They’d probably say the same things about us.”
What followed was a highly energized discussion about what had led them to these views and how they could avoid falling into such beliefs in the future. They finally came up with an idea that was part slogan, part policy, part mantra.
Assume Best Intentions.
Any time someone on their team became frustrated with someone else or questioned their motives, every other team member had the right and the responsibility to remind them to Assume Best Intentions. They would ask each other, “What would you say about that person if you assumed they had the best intentions?” It permeated all of their relationships within their team and between them and their peers, clients, and management.
A year after that meeting the manager of that team told me they had had a banner year. And yes, they were making their name as The Collaborative Team. He didn’t attribute this to their hard work, dedication, or skill. He said every single success they experienced came back to assuming best intentions. It increased information flow, broke down silos, healed damaged relationships, helped them bounce back from and respond positively to frustrating management decisions. He said it helped every facet of their relationships and their work.
So what would happen in your work and your life if you assumed that the people around you had the best intentions?