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Pleasing Teams: “If you’re Happy, I’m Happy” And Why They are Blocked from Executing Change

Posted by Martone, Andrea at Thursday, 05/17/2012 11:29 am
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2.6 from 36 votes
By Reut Schwartz-Hebron

John walked into the team meeting wondering if today would be any different than any of the meetings in the last three years. His leadership team had agreed to make some changes and it would be wonderful if some of the guidelines they laid down last month were finally put to work. He sometimes felt he was doing too much. Sure, he was the CEO, but the leadership team wasn’t taking sufficient initiative. They were all very open and he believed they really cared about each other and the business, so he couldn’t really understand their taking a backseat whenever he was in the room. Why was it that he constantly felt he needed to motivate them? He truly believed the business would do much better if his leadership team was more proactive and assertive. “Everyone on the team is committed to our success, but for some reason we don’t hold each other accountable for things we agreed on. When a deadline comes up, everyone will work hard until the project is done, but in daily tasks, progress lingers. We have been fully aware of this issue and have tried to improve our interactions around follow up for a long time. Even though we are all committed to seeing the dynamics change, we are still seeing the same behaviors unchanged.” CEO, IT industry

The days are over when managers and employees who resisted change were accommodated. The new generation of resilient teams will need to be flexible, quick thinkers and decisive when needed. Most importantly, they’ll need to be able to improve. Sound like an easy transition? It isn’t. Different teams are blocked from making needed changes for different reasons, usually because of some version of resistance to change. However, in John’s case as with other “pleasing teams” it’s the lack of resistance that is blocking the team from executing needed changes. While too much resistance blocks change, so does too little resistance. New developments in brain science give us keen insight into what resistance really is and how to create just the right amount of it to generate lasting change.

Fact: Acquiring talent and retaining top talent are becoming high priorities to management and HR people in many industries. Case in point, Ernst and Young’s 2010 Business Risk report covering the top 10 business risks ranks “Talent Management” as the fourth most important risk to manage across 14 industry sectors, according to senior executives.

Even though people are the single most important factor, blocking or accelerating success in business, many HR leaders are blocked from getting managers and employees to make needed changes because resistance in too difficult or elusive to overcome. Traditional change systems see resistance as a negative force, one that should be avoided. New developments in brain science highlight the importance of resistance for getting people to change and pleasing teams are an excellent example of why resistance is so crucial.

The telltale sign of the pleasing managers or employees is that these people seem to welcome change but agreement is followed by non-action. The predominant communication style of pleasing teams is relationship oriented, gentle, considerate, appreciative, caring, kind, thoughtful, encouraging, forgiving, and sincere. These individuals or teams tend to assign initiative to someone else, following gladly. However, despite their openness, acceptance of feedback and understanding demeanor, they apply very little in terms of needed adjustments in a lasting way. “Pleasing” managers and employees can be agreeable, accommodating, avoid conflict, unresponsive, and complaisant. They will prefer to sweep problems under the rug in order to avoid making other people uncomfortable. As a result, they will have difficulty establishing priorities and making decisions. When a pleasing type is the predominant culture in a team, people often respond inadequately to pressure, wanting to please everyone but at the same time forgiving everyone and accommodating others’ needs, instead of holding people accountable.

Pleasing managers and employees seem most cooperative, but struggle greatly with making needed adjustments. It’s a fantastic example of people who say they want to change, who are open and cooperative, but who consistently don’t apply needed changes in practice, certainly not in a consistent lasting way. We tend to think of people who are eager to cooperate and please as people who are missing abilities like assertiveness or self-confidence but exhibit very low resistance. But when it comes to adopting more effective abilities or making needed changes, the pleasing orientation presents an important type of challenge.

In fact, it can be one of the most frustrating types of teams when it comes to change and it’s very commonly treated incorrectly.

When someone on John’s leadership team didn’t deliver on certain deadlines, no one followed up or held that individual accountable. The leadership team often over-promised, which periodically created tremendous pressure on the staff and often led to client dissatisfaction, despite the team’s great efforts. The team didn’t follow any clear structure, and with different team members coming and going at different hours of the day, the team was unable to coordinate and work to promote tasks together. However, the team has already identified all of these needed changes on its own. The real issue was they didn’t follow up or follow through on making sure the needed changes were made.

Pleasing teams don’t resist for the same reason other teams do resist; there are following strongly reinforced response patterns. In other teams resistance to change is increased by deep rooted response patterns such as control or skepticism. With “pleasing teams” the deeply rooted response patterns minimize resistance and without resistance they avoid the type of choice that is required for lasting change.
Resistance is actually helpful for change because without resistance there is no choice to do something differently and hence change is less likely to be permanent. The best way to create new response patterns is to reinforce choice in action and give the brain the ability to make a new response pattern stronger than an old one. John’s team needed to develop new response patterns in order to achieve desired results: “This process seems to have worked with unexpected results and very suddenly. I came back from a business trip and found a different organization. It’s like something inside my team turned on and now it can never be turned off again.” CEO, IT industry

Next week: we’ll talk about the specific strategies needed to support the “pleaser team” and give specific examples of how these strategies lead “pleasing teams” to make the lasting changes they are trying to achieve.

Reut Schwartz – Hebron is the founder of Key Change Institute (KCI) - a national organization that provides groundbreaking business performance improvement and strategy execution consulting services rooted in brain science and experience-based learning. KCI helps businesses overcome resistance to change and optimize productivity and profitability to achieve impactful, lasting results. She is also the author of the new book The Art and Science of Changing People Who Don’t Want to Change Giving Teams Access To Their Full Potential

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