When your school culture is all about positivity and that magical mixture of love and high expectations, there needs to be a certain amount of healthy conflict to combat artificial harmony and ensure the forces of mediocrity aren’t winning.
In the last several years, our school has developed compelling and connected core values, vision, mission, and goals, but we've also found ourselves, at times, a bit love-heavy and unknowingly, and with good intentions, playing too nice.
As our teacher voice team was reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, we completed the team assessment activity and found the results confirmed what we suspected. We were really, really strong on the first three layers of the team pyramid (trust, conflict, and commitment) and our weakest area was in accountability. Our need to avoid interpersonal discomfort was preventing team members from holding each other accountable for their behaviors and performance.
The rich discussion and reflection that followed were solidified during a Solution Tree PLC training with Mandy Barrett, who shared a term her school uses when team members needed to hold one another accountable - carefronting.
We looked around the room at each other, knowing this fit our culture perfectly, and we immediately began building clarity and competency around this powerful skill.
Here are some keys to guide these courageous conversations:
🔑 Filter using your team’s core values and norms. Before you carefront, you’ll first want to ask yourself if this behavior truly goes against the core values and norms that have been established and agreed upon by your team. Not only does this help filter out what could be something small and not impactful (because if so, it isn’t worth your time and energy), but this will also help you attach your feedback to something that has a shared value.
🔑 Empathize and empower. This is combination shared by one of our team members, Kelly Savicki, is simple and powerful. By first truly listening and sharing that emotion with your colleague, you’ll ensure they feel heard. Whatever the behavior, it is attached to needs and emotions they are having and no one who feels dismissed will be ready to hear feedback, much less be willing to change behavior. But don’t stop there! Take the next, courageous step by empowering them. Push their thinking to a new perspective and help them seek a solution. This shared experience is impactful when you invest in and build skills with a valued team member.
🔑 Speak belief. Here's a phrase that can turn feedback that is tossed aside into feedback that moves learning forward: “I'm giving you this feedback because I believe in you.” Let your teammate know that there's a huge dose of care going into this carefrontation. When we value others and believe in the genius they bring to the table, defenses go down while trust and vulnerability increase.
🔑 Follow up. Now that you’ve had this important conversation, your work is not done. However you decide to do it (create a time block in your calendar), make sure you circle back to this teammate, specifically about this topic. Even better, as you’re in the midst of carefronting, tell them you’re going to be following up. This holds them accountable by letting them know how valuable this is to the team and giving them a chance to learn and reflect with you in the future.
Through honest team self-reflection, analyzing various data points, and working through shared learning, we reached a point of clarity that helped us build a remarkable culture.