The Balance Between Initiative & Flexibility When Working In Teams

By Engager Lawrese Brown

The Blind Leading The Blind. That is literally what happened when I was facilitating a Blind Trust activity for a group of teens. During the activity, each person guides their partner around the room by their fingertips while their partner’s eyes are closed.

At the end of the activity, I asked the pairs “How did it feel to be led? How did it feel to have your eyes closed?” That’s when one of the pairs said, “We both had our eyes closed as we moved around the room.”

de298b_55847c546b2247039f8ca70e92f4db12mv2I was intrigued. I’d facilitated this activity frequently and never had that happen before. I then had the remaining teens do another round where both people in the pair tried to navigate around the room with their eyes closed. The final round was absolutely comical, but also a critical “aha” moment for us. As one teen said, “You need someone to lead so that you have direction.”

We know that you need leaders and followers, but we don’t often talk about the skill it takes to lead (initiative) and the skill involved in following (flexibility). As an instructor, it was the perfect demonstration of improvisations reliance on both. The final round showed us the importance of being both enterprising and easygoing when focused on achieving a result.

There is a tendency on teams to think in extremes – either you are easy going and go with it or you are being assertive and taking charge. But what would happen if we celebrated teammates that demonstrated both qualities equally?

If you’re too easygoing, you’ll never take action. And if you’re too assertive, you’ll leave no room to adapt. As the activity fundamentally showed us, progress (movement) and success (not bumping into anyone or anything) relies on a balance of both.
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Imagine how we would shift our behavior on teams if we knew that every time there was a department project, the team’s ability to reach the desired result was the only metric we were judged on. There wasn’t an opportunity for you to say, “Well I did my part…” or conversely, “Well I did what everyone else was doing…”

de298b_3037f3252cdf40639a372277971b37c4mv2Accepting that teamwork requires a balance of initiative and flexibility (or leading and following from all members of the team) is the best way to hold everyone accountable for the times final result. Both improv and teamwork are like having a great conversation, it’s not just what you say that’s great, but it’s also what others said to you. That balance is where the magic happens.

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