Truly Understanding Your Team

A.T Gimbel shares how to better understand those around you and better understand your team.

A.T. Gimbel
See Profile
December 23, 2019

How to create a positive team culture

I’ll never forget walking across the Georgia Tech campus one day when I overheard two people having a loud conversation. One was complaining about a co-worker, going on-and-on about how lazy, disrespectful, etc. they were. The other person calmly made the statement, “you never know where that person came from and what they may be going through.” It has always stuck with me, that until you really know where somebody came from or what they are currently dealing with, it is hard to have empathy and best support them. Here are a few examples of how to better understand those around you and better understand your team (or customers, investors, co-workers, etc.)

Storytelling narratives

In today’s fast paced world, we are often quick to categorize someone and make a snap judgment. But until you understand their story, your judgment may be biased and incomplete. As humans, we are also experts at crafting stories to our liking and using different pieces of data to fit the narrative we want to believe. As an example, here are two hypothetical scenarios:

Person A 

  • Grandmother came to the United States without speaking English to escape political unrest in her native country
  • Multi-sport athlete and captain of the high school football team
  • Worked hard to pay for both college and graduate school through scholarships and part-time jobs while earning all As

Person B: 

  • Grew up with supportive parents who both had graduate degrees
  • Gifted a car for their 16th birthday 
  • Didn’t need to study much, but still received good grades
  • Attended an Ivy League school

Which of those two people do you think would have more grit and determination? Who would you want on your team? Well, what if Person A and Person B are the same, we are just using incomplete data from different parts of their background to make decisions? You truly have to understand the full story before making decisions. Remember that different personality types can also influence how people live and tell their story.

Assume the best

We often have to make decisions with incomplete information. It is sometimes tempting to view co-workers or friends with some level of cynicism over what they may be trying to do. However, I have found going that route does not promote a mutual, trusting relationship. Instead, assume the other person is putting your best interests forward and start from there as your point of reference to work together in a positive manner. It is amazing how many conversations go off track because people start the dialogue from a point of cynicism. The old negotiation tactic leveraged from Improv comedy of “Yes-And” can also help you build off of each other in a positive way that keeps the conversation going.

Bonding away from work

Some of the best corporate cultures I have seen really connect with their teams outside of work. This could be at meals, charity events, weekend get togethers, etc. One thing our team has tried over the past couple of months is leveraging conversation cards to have deeper discussions at lunch. Who knew questions like “what holiday tradition would someone from outside your family find unique?” could elicit such deep and heartfelt responses and really connect teammates at a deeper level. Here is a link to the Inspirational cards we have been using to facilitate that deeper team bonding.

When working with teammates, it is helpful to maintain a positive approach and truly try to better understand the people you are working with. Besides, people have some amazing stories and you might learn something interesting!

You might also enjoy...