Three Secrets for Supporting Teams
I don't honestly know that what I'm about to share are secrets, but it sure sounded nice in the title. In trying to be helpful, I'll keep my thoughts succinct and to the point (maybe) and I've narrowed this list down to 3 secrets (that might not even be secrets at all).
Secret #1: Make Your Purpose Clear From the Start
We all have lists of the things. We have lists of the lists of the things. We have spreadsheets and folders and files (oh my!) and we are overwhelmed with continual input of information. Though I might desperately want time to ask my questions, process my thoughts and emotions, and individually work towards improvement--if it's not on my list, it's probably not gonna happen.
To support members of a team, you need make it crystal clear why the support/coaching/call/meeting/observation/follow-up is worth their time. How will you help them facilitate tough conversations that they need to have with one another? How will you listen, provide connection, and demonstrate empathy? Will they leave their time with you feeling burdened with more tasks? Or will they leave with more clarity around how to focus their time and energy?
A solid, go-to purpose for anyone in a support role is to do just that: offer support. We are here to listen, observe, affirm, and ask a few good questions that help you process what you already probably know deep down in there. Make it clear, as often as you can, that your role is to support not assess, judge, critique, or evaluate. Can you offer advice and opinions and suggestions? Yes you can--if they want it and indicate that they will receive it. You are not a fixer. You are a supporter.
Secret #2: Normalize the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Emotions
Sometimes, we are supporting people who struggle just as much to celebrate and feel joy and acceptance--as they do to face failure and fear. The truth is, emotions are neither good nor bad nor ugly, it's just that we often perceive them to be such and then shy away from expressing or sharing them.
As a coach or team support, I need to make space for each person on the team to feel and express their emotions. There are times when I'm working with groups and I can sense that someone is mustering up the courage to say the thing--the thing no one else will say, or the thing that's been said before but people haven't heard it. I listen and watch to see how others on the team respond to the thing. Are they open, appreciative, inviting? Or are they defensive, reproachful, and admonishing? When supporting a team, my role is to make space for all the feelings--all the things. I can't play favorites, I can't honor one person's experience more than another's. I can't fall in to shaming behaviors or controlling tactics.
That means there are times when the sway of the team and the conversation takes us in a direction I didn't anticipate. There are times when I don't know how the person in charge (usually a superintendent) is actually going to react to the discussion we are having. I do know, however, that my top priority is to be supportive, and I can't be supportive and honoring to the team if there isn't a safe space for all emotions. From everyone.
Secret #3: Help Teams Think Ahead and Anticipate Struggle Areas
Though your team might not know exactly what their teachers or colleagues will struggle with, because they are human--they will have a pretty good idea. Build moments where the team reflects on what is working (and why) but also what they anticipate will cause anxiety and fear (and why).
By helping the leadership team think through potential struggles, you equip the leaders with the ability to provide emotional constancy and calm when the struggle does occur. Why do I give up running so quickly? Because for whatever reason, in my head, I believe that real runners do not struggle with the run. That's total junk (I know) but I have that stuck in my head.
So what if instead I told myself that real runners are the ones who embrace the hard and keep going anyway? That the difference is not the ease or difficulty, but rather, their choice to lean into the hard?
The same can be said of people who lead teams. Leading people is not easy, and it's not a skill that some of us are simply born with. The best leaders tend to be people who leave space for difficult conversations, various experiences and emotions, and the dignity for all people to feel value. Valuing everyone requires empathy, openness, and time. It is incredibly hard to be an empathetic, open, patient leader all of the time. But that is what is required.
If you are in a support position where you are helping leaders who need to help other leaders--include time and space for them to anticipate potential struggles. We feel more confident about doing hard things when we know the things are supposed to be hard.
Which of these three secrets (that totally are not secret) resonated with you the most? Which would make the biggest impact on your ability to help grow the teams you work with? What are you own top three secrets to share?