When women get together and collaborate effectively within a team anything is possible!
Perhaps you’ve worked with a team that is predominantly or all female… how did that go?
Women can make smarter teams
Recent research published by Harvard Business Review shows that having more women in a team allows them to work smarter – so of course it makes sense to have gender diversity in teams (1) What the Harvard research points to is that we need socially sensitive and emotionally intelligent people (male or female) to collaborate effectively within teams, which allows them to be more than the sum of their parts.
In relation to how women in particular collaborate, a brilliant team of women comes to mind for me; I think the reason this all-female team worked was that we were generally quite comfortable in our skin, we trusted each other and respected each other’s abilities and different strengths; and were comfortable offering feedback and open to receiving it, so that if professional disagreements arose we discussed and debated and were able to resolve differences.
However I have also worked with and coached some teams that were mostly made up of women – and it seems that female colleagues particularly may struggle with issues like…
- Worrying about what other women will think or say about them behind their back.
- Fear of speaking up and offering genuine constructive feedback because of worrying how a colleague will react
- Difficulty in receiving and being open to feedback – taking it personally
- Deep resentment and polarisation building up over a period where another woman becomes the focus of their annoyance often for trivial things; perhaps being envious of their lifestyle – feeling the other person has opportunities that they don’t
- Getting caught up in the drama of events
- Avoiding conflict or difficult emotions that may come up
- Difficulty asking for help or admitting mistakes, in case they appear weak
- Challenges around their boundaries – perhaps taking on too much and not being able to say no – feeling they have to have it all / do it all
All of these issues can be bubbling under the surface, rather than being overt – and can cause tension, poor morale & motivation, not just for those team members but others who are in the “fallout zone” and affected by difficult working relationships between their colleagues.
Lack of trust
Many of these issues largely come down to a lack of trust in others – that others will talk about them, that their opinion or expertise won’t be respected. Perhaps there’s also insecurity and a lack of trust in themselves about how well they can handle their own emotions and how they might react to other people’s emotions – and a fear of conflict or rejection.
According to a study by Benenson and colleagues (1) women may be more sensitive than men to social exclusion. If on some level as an adult, a woman has a fear of social isolation, this could account for a lack of trust between female colleagues and a reluctance to create conflict and not to rock the boat. If you’ve seen the movie “Mean Girls” or experienced something like that growing up… you’ll know what I mean!
Begin with Trust
So if female leaders and team members are to work more effectively together, and using Lencioni’s Five Behaviours of a Cohesive Team – it would suggest building Trust is the most important place to start.
Trust is a choice
Trust happens when we create a culture of openness, recognising each others values even those that differ from ours, listening to understand and a willingness to be vulnerable and allow each other to be themselves without judgement, or worrying about how others will judge you.
Many women I have met have difficulty with assertiveness, and hold back from speaking up in case others think they are being aggressive or bossy.
If as a female team member or leader, you can recognise when you are holding back from saying what needs to be said – explore with curiosity what might be causing that.
Your opinion is just as valid as anyone else’s – you just have to choose to trust yourself.
“Speak your mind even if your voice shakes”. Maggie Kuhn
Liz Barron works with Leaders and Teams in Ireland, UK and Europe to help them maximise their effectiveness, improve collaboration and realize their full potential.
The HerTeam programme is specifically tailored to female leaders and teams, to help build trust, emotional intelligence skills, collaboration, communication and focus on results.
- https://hbr.org/2011/06/defend-your-research-what-makes-a-team-smarter-more-women Harvard Business Review 2011
- Psychology Today 2013 and Study by Benenson group 2013 http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/368/1631/20130079