The Tortoise and the Hare

“What would you like coaching on today?” I asked Jonathan.

“Well, my team is working on an important project. Everyone wants this to succeed and we’re even aligned around how to make it happen. But a couple of team members are chomping at the bit to implement this in the next three months. The rest of the team believes we need to take it a bit slower. Everybody’s frustrated and it’s causing all sorts of tension.”

When people work together, differences in pace can lead to frustration, even when they want the same things. For example, my husband was ready to begin retirement planning when we were in our 40s, but it took me years to even consider the subject. Whenever a related subject would come up, he’d remind me that it would be easier to talk about if we had a retirement plan. Not surprisingly, this often led to tension.

Differences in pacing can be caused by various factors. For example how and how quickly one takes in information and makes decisions vary by personality and temperament. Risk tolerance vs avoidance also relate to personality type as well as to other factors, such as previous experience.

Other differences in pacing might be the result of circumstances. For example, one team member might be swamped with work and/or personal challenges, making it difficult for them to contemplate taking on more responsibility.

“How are these differences affecting your team working together?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s awful. People are blaming and judging each other.  The tortoises are being accused of not having enough commitment, of being resistant. The hares are being accused of impulsivity, pushiness, and being unconcerned about the consequences.  Instead of working together, we waste valuable time criticizing one another and defending our positions. I really need to find a way to help people see the need for both perspectives to come up with a sound implementation strategy.”

“How do you think that might happen, Jonathan?”

 “I think we really need to use this frustration as a dynamic force that can help us to move forward in a brisk and considered way. Right now it’s interfering with our ability to make progress,” he said.

So how can that happen?  During a conversation with some colleagues the other day (the inspiration for this post), we identified three key ways:

  • Individually and collectively, recognize the frustration that exists. Name it, notice how it shows up, and then reflect on what impact frustration is having on being able to move forward. Is it a distractor, draining valuable time and energy? Or is it contributing a sense of urgency that fuels forward momentum?
  •  If frustration is getting in the way of forward momentum, take personal responsibility for one’s own frustration and where it’s coming from.  Try to understand other people’s perspective and where they are coming from. Blaming and judging others gets in the way of being able to see one’s own part in the situation.
  • Use the awareness of how you’re feeling and why to serve the other person and/or the team.  It might be helpful to reaffirm collective alignment around where you’re headed then determine how frustration can serve as a dynamic force to move forward.