Humility is often overlooked
You have been there before. The big presentation for the new project launch is just around the corner. Dreading the impending deadline, you recognize that you are going to have to pass along parts of the project and presentation to other members of your team in order to meet your deadline in a week and a half. You have hung out with Franklin a few times after work and, when you describe the situation to him, he volunteers to take on the part of the project you don’t want to do, with assurances that he will have it back to you and the rest of the team within the week. As you lead the rest of the project, preparing for the launch and the presentation, you start to wrap everything up so that the team can do a final prep for the presentation, only to find out at the last minute that the portion of the project that Franklin took on is it not done and, even worse, has little resemblance to what you originally handed off.
Why does this happen? I contend this failure is due to a lack of team humility. Let me explain. All too often, humility is overlooked as a cornerstone value in organizations. We (falsely) assume that humility leads to low-producing, under-motivated wimps. That description couldn’t be further from the truth.
What is Team Humility?
In the last decade and a half, humility has started to actually be recognized for its value. Whether it was the location of humility in the Level 5 Leadership offered up by Jim Collins in his bestseller Good to Great, or the work of positive psychologists like Julie Exline and June Tangney, people are starting to wake up to the value of other-focused self-knowledge that is steeped in a willingness to learn and appreciate the values of others.
Based on my research in the field (examining middle school teachers and emergency medical technicians), I characterize team humility as the in-group functioning of team members toward one another, which includes a willingness to learn, accurate self-knowledge, proper location of self (in relation to others) and a care and concern for other group members.
The teams that people are part of may be tight- or loose-knit in the reliance upon one another, they may be as small as three or they may represent a larger group, but the characteristics are the same – these teams are aware. In an ever-changing world that is continually finding opportunities for the use of teams, the enactment of team humility leads to the possibility for real and substantive good to be engaged in organizations and communities.
Why Humble Teams?
When researchers examine qualities inherent in leadership and discuss the ingredients of a positive team, humility is often overlooked. Instead, they point to charisma, public speaking abilities, dynamism, vision, and a host of other characteristics. However, when teams enact, and organizations promote, the value of humility becomes very advantageous to their culture and performance. The understanding that humility includes a low self-focus, accurate portrayal of self and others, willingness to learn, and appreciation of others can serve to aid organizations significantly.
If we look back at our initial narrative, we would recognize that better awareness by the leader of the individual’s strengths likely would have led to a different course than passing off this portion of the project to him. If we recognized that, rather than Franklin, Victoria was equipped with the specific strengths to carry out this portion of the program, it would have led to greater success. Further, if Franklin had been more self-aware and cognizant of the abilities of his fellow team members, he would not have volunteered for a task that was not the proper fit for his abilities.
Countless other narratives could be told about the failure within teams and organizations due to the hubris of leaders and team members. It would be easy to point to those who overinflate their importance and ability to carry out jobs. We could talk about the good team members lost to other organizations because of a failure of others to show care and concern. You could list the times in which your own or your team members’ lack of willingness to learn has led to missed opportunities for early adoption of new products and services.
Researchers have already begun pointing to long-term planning, enculturation of new organizational members, leadership development, group functioning, and team learning as primary places where humility impacts teams and organizations. When self- and other-awareness, willingness to learn, and a concern for others are present within a team, real positive impact will be recognized in the culture and bottom line of that organization.
How are Humble Teams developed?
Sounds great, right? Who wouldn’t want this kind of impact in their organization? But developing humble teams doesn’t happen overnight. Implementation of some or all of the following methods will significantly aid this development, however:
1) Beginning with upper leadership, model humility through:
- A demonstrated willingness to learn, as well as acknowledging the specialized knowledge that others bring to the table.
- Maintaining a proper placement of themselves (not overly important or overly unimportant, not taking credit for what others have done, etc.).
- Show care and concern for other group/organization members through checking in at appropriate junctures and assessing what is needed for others to thrive.
- Develop an open and honest feedback circle which allows for an understanding of what one does well and needs to improve on.
2) Demonstrate the importance of organization/team-wide values through:
- Hiring practices.
- Promotions and raises.
- Promotion of values in the ongoing communication and public realms of the organization.
- Enactment of feedback processes for recognizing extraordinary examples.
- Consistent reminder and encouragement of these values.
True humility, as enacted within teams, should assist the development of an uplifting organizational climate. It is imperative that organizations awaken to the blessings found in this humble perspective. Given that almost every organization utilizes groups for some aspect or function, it should become imperative for organizations of all stripes to seek better understanding about how team humility functions, how it can be encouraged, and what that means for recruitment, leadership, and training.