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What Are You and Your Team Avoiding?

May 31, 2018

What we avoid runs our lives.  Think of it like an app running in the background.


Over time avoidance drains our battery.

What we avoid is still being processed and affecting our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.  Sometimes we are aware this is running in the background, and we catch ourselves thinking about it.  Then we try to distract ourselves.  Often we don’t even have awareness, and the effects still show up.

Because we are human beings with integrated (not compartmentalized) lives, avoidance in one area often impacts other aspects of our lives.  From how we interact with our co-workers to how we engage with our community.  It impacts how we show up for our family and how we show up as leaders in our organizations.  From how we nurture our friendships to how we take care of our own needs.

Avoidance manifests in individuals, teams, and organizations.

Things individuals may avoid:

  • Asking for open and honest feedback... and actually listening with openness and honesty
  • Apologizing and admitting we were wrong... and truly meaning it
  • Looking at where we want to grow
  • Articulating that wild and crazy idea
  • Admitting we are not satisfied, longing for something new or different... and actually doing something about it
  • Expanding our skillset and trying something new

Things teams may avoid:

  • Having an open and honest discussion about low quality... and actually doing something about it
  • Being transparent about technical debt and its impacts
  • Addressing a team member whose work is consistently not meeting expectations
  • Being open with stakeholders about an unrealistic release date
  • Learning that what we are building isn’t the right thing
  • Trying a new technology, new design pattern, new practice before we know exactly how to do it

Things organizations may avoid:

  • Knowing the real value the organization is delivering... or not delivering
  • Removing people who are toxic... even if they have subject matter expertise
  • Sacrificing short-term success for long-term gain
  • Making a choice about what is most important... and honoring that choice with supportive actions and realistic expectations
  • Admitting the old business model isn’t working anymore
  • Discussing a lack of employee engagement (and doing something about it)

We tell ourselves stories to avoid difficult things.

And the battery keeps draining.

Many times we point at the “other” as a mechanism for avoidance.

I am not going to look at my own mistakes and where I need to grow because the bigger problem is with team dysfunction and organizational culture.

Often I see teams point at organizational impediments and avoid dealing with challenges that are actually within their control.

There is a lot of effort going into these stories of justification.  We dance around the unpleasant topics.  All of this effort continues to drain the battery.

Busyness is a symptom of avoidance.

We are a culture of people who have bought into the idea that if we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives won’t catch up with us.” -  Brene Brown

I’ve had relationships with colleagues, friends, and family broken (or nearly broken) because one or both of us was avoiding a difficult conversation.

I’ve worked in and with organizations where I sensed that a large number of people, from the front-line employees to senior leaders, had strong gut feelings that they were going in the wrong direction.  Yet they wwere not allowed to spend a day or two coming together to assess and re-align.

Because they were too busy.  Hitting the date was too important.  That seemed like a lot of money to spend.

So they kept avoiding the difficult conversations, facing reality, and admitting they didn’t really know if they would be successful.  And this actually put them at greater risk of failure.  And it cost them much more in the end.

What is the solution?

Get curious about avoidance.

You are specifically looking for that app running in the background, draining the battery, and taking energy away from where you want to focus it.

Start with yourself.

  • What are you avoiding?
  • Why are you avoiding it?  
  • How is this affecting your thoughts, emotions, and actions?

Then consider what your team (and you as a part of that team) is avoiding.  Notice what your organization is avoiding.

  • What symptoms do you see? 
  • What stories are being told?  When is busyness used as an excuse? 
  • In what ways can you see the battery draining?

Finally, dig into these powerful questions:

  • What is avoidance costing you/ us?
  • What is possible when you/ we deal directly with what you/ we are avoiding?
  • How can you/ we take the lead in bringing transparency, awareness, and truth to what is happening?  
  • How can you/ we help create more clarity and alignment to purpose?

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