Allow me to set the stage. Don, Shirley, Frank and Jessie all work for the same company. They are peers and interact on a daily basis. Let’s pull back the curtain momentarily and observe what is happening.
Shirley has stopped Frank in the hall. They have an exchange that goes like this.
Shirley: “Frank, you won’t believe what Don did. I’m so frustrated with him! He was supposed to prepare graphs for the PowerPoint slides to insert into the Magruder presentation and he totally blew it off. How are we going to get these graphs?”
Frank: “Wow, Shirley! It’s incredible that he didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. You know, he’s done that before. What a bozo!”
Later, Frank runs into Jessie and their conversation went like this.
Frank: “Jessie – Shirley told me that Don completely booted the graphs for the Magruder presentation. She’s about to blow a gasket. I wonder if Don should even be on our team.”
Jessie: “That’s awful! Don seems to have a history of doing things like this. He’s being extremely selfish and doesn’t care about anyone but himself.”
What is happening here? I call it The Bermuda Triangulation Effect. The Bermuda Triangle is a region covering roughly 500,000 square miles in the Atlantic Ocean where ships and aircraft have seemingly vanished without a trace. In other words, it’s akin to a mysterious black hole, sucking in the unsuspecting. Unfortunately there’s no mystery to The Bermuda Triangulation Effect. Triangulation is a no man’s land where different parties whine, moan and groan about another party without speaking directly with that party. In our example Frank, Shirley and Jessie are triangulating about Don and the problems he has caused. Yet, no one bothered to talk to Don about the issue.
Triangulation is bad for business and bad for relationships. It’s pure poison and can dramatically and adversely impact the chemistry of a team. Why does all of this grousing happen among teammates in the first place? I believe that it’s indicative of a team that does not hold mutual respect as a cornerstone. Team members also don’t trust each other to the point that they can have conversations directly with the party who is causing issues. I’ve heard many people explain that they feel like such a conversation could be confrontational and they want to avoid conflict.
Here’s the truth. Entrepreneurial leaders must take all steps necessary to eliminate triangulation. This starts with identifying clear roles and accountabilities for each team member. And everyone must clearly understand how they are accountable to each other. This accountability should include a process for addressing issues and concerns that are encountered from time-to-time. Team members should understand that it is incumbent upon them to speak directly with another team member should a challenge arise with that individual. Discussions among peers should be taboo as they are counterproductive and accomplish absolutely nothing. And team members should be discouraged from trying to resolve their issues via e-mail. E-mail is a one-dimensional form of communication and is one of the worst ways to try and sort out problems within a team.
Team members should be educated on how to speak directly with another team member in what might be perceived as an uncomfortable situation. Had our fictitious team been properly educated, the following exchange might have occurred with Shirley going to Don directly.
Shirley: “Don – I was looking for the graphs that you were preparing and found that they weren’t in shared folder. I need to drop them in the PowerPoint for the Magruder presentation. When do you think you’ll have them ready?”
Don: “Shirley – “I’m so sorry. I spent the night in the emergency room with my daughter and wasn’t able to finish them like I promised. I’ve been working on them and will have them completed in about 30 minutes.”
Shirley: “I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter. I hope she’s OK. If you need any help, just let me know.”
No triangulation occurred. The team continued to move forward to achieve its goals. Feelings weren’t hurt and time wasn’t wasted with angry chatter.
As entrepreneurs we must endeavor to create a culture of mutual respect where team members are totally comfortable having conversations of all sorts with each other. Stamping out triangulation should be a priority to this end.
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This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.