One morning about a year into my first real full-time job my husband called and asked if he could pick me up for lunch; a nice surprise since he very rarely had time for lunch. As I got in the car with him he handed me a single red rose (how sweet), I gave him a quick kiss and we headed out to find something to eat.
None of that is interesting or even noteworthy. However, by the time I got back to the office an hour later one of the ‘team leaders’ who had been outside smoking when I left had told several people in the department that I was having an affair. It became a huge firestorm with hot-spots flaring up constantly. Starting that day and for the entire two years I worked on that floor I had to defend myself. “Yes the man who had taken me to lunch was my husband and yes sometimes he even bought me flowers.” I absolutely believe that bit of gossip negatively affected my success in that job.
So why am I telling you that story? It seemingly has nothing to do with teams or leadership. Maybe it falls somewhere close to communication and conflict. But really, why did my going to lunch with someone (my husband or otherwise) really matter to anyone? That lunch in no way changed my ability to do my job and do it well.
If you are part of a corporate or athletic team you certainly have first hand stories like that one. Maybe it was about you, maybe it is something you heard about someone else. But the stories happen all the time and they are bad for productivity. I have talked before about trust being a key ingredient for successful teams. I never trusted that team leader. I will even go so far as to say if I saw her today she would have to work really hard to gain my trust.
Here are a few tips to keep things that have nothing to do with your team out of your way:
- 1. Open a discussion with your team about the damaging effects of gossip. Everyone will agree it is bad and no one in the room will stand up and say they think talking behind someone’s back is a good thing.
2. This is a perfect time to get a commitment that as a team you are going to wipe out gossip and the firestorm it creates. Sports teams have the option to include it in their code of conduct (my book includes a team contract they can use). It is a little more challenging to have no gossip written contracts in the business world. If you can’t have a signed piece of paper at least have an explicit verbal agreement.
3. As part of that agreement include that everyone agrees to hold each other accountable to it. Gossip goes nowhere when no one is listening. Create phrases that can be used by your team when someone starts to talk behind someone’s back. “That sounds like an issue between you and Sue. Have you talked to her?” “I’m not really sure what happened between Tom and Dave but I think it is their issue to work out.” Having something ready-made to say will make the uncomfortable situation of turning gossip off much easier.
4. Remember to tell people new to the team about your “No Gossip” policy. Explain why you put it in place and if you have a written statement share it with them. Make it clear that office politics and team drama have no place on your team.
5. Keep in mind that gossip and politics are very normal in group environments. It will take effort to change the team’s behavior. It is effort well worth the productive outcome you will receive
6. Finally – Coaches, managers, and captains MUST be role models. I cannot even count the number of times I have sat in meetings with leaders who complain bitterly about team drama and then it turns out they are the worst gossip on the team. Don’t let that happen to you!
It really is this simple – If you don’t talk about office politics, gossip and team drama they will eat your team from the inside out. You will waste valuable time and energy and things that matter as much to your bottom line as whether or not I was having lunch with my husband did to my work all those years ago will drain your resources.
So ask yourself this question: How much potential are you willing to waste?
Do you have a story like the one I shared where something having nothing to do with the task at hand derailed your team? We would love to hear about it!
Next week we take the issue of office politics and gossip a step further – What do you do when your team is being ransacked by team drama?
Last week’s topic had tips for being micromanaged and to stop micromanaging. Read it here if you missed it.