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From Problems to Superpowers: Leveraging the Differences on Your Team for Maximum Effectiveness

Performance coach Darcy Luoma encourages team members to accept one another, rather than wasting time being frustrated with differences, or worse, trying to change each other.

By Lisa Ryckman  |  August 21, 2023

The path to results instead of regrets takes three simple steps:

Pause. Think. Act.

In that order, master coach Darcy Luoma says. And don’t skip any.

“If you’re just really good at acting, chances are you are overreacting or acting impulsively, and then you gotta go clean up the mess,” says Luoma, founder of a coaching and consulting firm that works to create high-performing people and teams. “Or maybe you pause and think and think and think and ruminate—and never quite take action. The reality is, not only do you individually need to train to get thoughtfully fit, but the team dynamics are improved when the team trains to get thoughtfully fit, where you intentionally create a culture that will supercharge your results.”

“Most people aren’t aware that there are different views—they just feel the tension.”

—Dary Luoma

Never assume that everyone on your team has the same view of what’s happening, Luoma told a session at NCSL’s 2023 Legislative Summit. It’s a safe bet they don’t.

“Most people aren’t aware that there are different views—they just feel the tension. They just know that there’s conflict or that there are power struggles or that there’s a lack of trust or lack of alignment. But they don’t really understand what’s contributing to that.”

Luoma cites three impediments to a top-notch team: the fear factor, the fight factor and the freak factor.

Fear factor

All sorts of fears arise on a team—fear of change, fear of not changing, fear of conflict, she says. It’s not about eliminating the fear, but making it safe to be brave.

“Create on your teams an environment where it is OK to not know, where it’s OK to be stuck, to be wrong, to be vulnerable enough to show up with those fears and to acknowledge the fears in your colleagues, instead of creating a space where it’s not OK to have the fear or where you try to push somebody to do or say something where they aren’t feeling safe.”

Luoma says dealing with fear takes “balance training,” where you have what you need to be vulnerable and the wherewithal to ask your colleagues what they need, too.

Fight factor

The strongest teams welcome conflict, Luoma says: “They create an environment where it’s safe to disagree. Ideally, you debate internally and then defend externally. That’s how you get the best results.”

Four toxins arise when conflict is not done in a healthy, respectful way, she says: blaming, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. But to avoid those, don’t eliminate the fight.

“It’s about facing it head on in a way that people can disagree, where it’s fair and it’s respectful, where there are ground rules to be able to have your voice heard,” Luoma says. “This requires agility training for your team, where you can pause and think before you act, so that you aren’t on the end where you either are impulsive and overreacting or you’re silently stewing and keeping it all in.”

Luoma says to consider whether you have the agility on our team to disagree thoughtfully. “How can we create the space where we are inviting and welcoming conflict and disagreement so that then we get better results?”

Freak factor

We all have quirks. Drama queen? Compulsive editor? Data diva?

“This isn’t about eliminating the freak, and it’s also not about tolerating the differences,” she says. “This is about leveraging the differences on your team for maximum effectiveness. The reality is, the strongest teams are diverse. They have different personalities, they have people with different quirks, different experiences, different genders, different diversity is key.”

Flexibility training helps team members accept others, rather than wasting time being frustrated with who they are, or worse, trying to change them, Luoma says.

“Somebody loves to start the project. Other people like to finish. Some people want to do a phone call. Other people just text,” she says. “The key is to go back to your team and ask, ‘How can we have the flexibility to stretch, to accept others?’ We need to be able to create an environment where we can stretch to accept others—even those who annoy the heck out of you.”

Lisa Ryckman is the associate director of communications at NCSL.

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