racy and Cal work for a company that names “Collaboration” as a core value, but no one has ever defined collaboration.
Tracy and Cal head back to their desks after the meeting. Tracy says, “Cal, You told me last month when I started working here that you were going to have my back.”
Cal says, “I did. You heard me tell them you were doing your best.”
Tracy feels hopeless. “Yeah. Exactly. Now thanks to you, they all think I’m drowning. They think my best is crappy.”
Cal asks, “What’d you want me to say?”
Tracy stops walking and says, “Where were you last week to help insure I was better prepared for that meeting before I put my foot in it? You knew I was on the wrong track and you did nothing. You call that collaboration?”
The expression, “Got your back,” means different things to different people.
In some of the teams I’ve worked with, there’s very little agreement as to the meaning. Tracy feels hung out to dry while Cal knows he’s got her back. Often, the argument is not so much about the facts of who’s doing what, but about what it means to truly have your teammate’s back.
This is something I give a lot of thought to. “Got Your Back” is a central principle in every training program conducted by my company, The Yes Works. We use theater improv principles to train teams to function at higher and higher levels of teamishness through exceptionally collaborative relationships. “Got Your Back” (which we describe as making your teammates look good — and be good) is one of my favorites among those principles. Everyone can always improve in their practice of it.
As Lon, a recent acquaintance of mine, told me today over coffee, “I ask myself, ‘who do I need to be to amplify my wife’s best?’ And she asks herself, ‘Who do I need to be to amplify Lon’s best?’” That’s not a question with one simple answer. And it’s a question of a higher level than most use when considering how to have a team mate’s back in collaboration.
Colleagues disagree about whether they’re being supportive because few teams have any specific definition of what a supportive attitude or supportive behavior looks like. I don’t have one either. I have six. Each definition represents a different level of practice, and each level reflects a higher degree of functionality, productivity, and satisfaction on the team.
I’ve got your back:
- Level 1: I won’t throw you under the bus. I’ve got your back.
- Level 2: If you’re in distress and you ask me for help, I’ll agree to help. I’ve got your back.
- Level 3: If I see that you’re in distress, I’ll stop and volunteer my help. I’ve got your back.
- Level 4: I know where you’re likely to need help, and I’ll ask if you’re struggling and need my help. I’ve got your back. This includes looking for the inspiration in every idea, and seeing the value in intention.
- Level 5: I know your strengths and weaknesses. My help will come in such a way and at such a time that your weakness will never show. The help is there before you know you need it. I’ve got your back. This includes allowing yourself to be inspired to action by those around you in all that they do.
- Level 6: I know our strengths and weaknesses as a team. I develop my skills and those of my team and find resources to eradicate those weaknesses and contribute to seamless team production. I’ve got your back.
What level are you playing at? What level is your team playing at? What level would you like to play at? No doubt you want your company to prosper. What level of “Got your back” do you and your team need to play at in order to reach your goals?
What are you doing to move your team along the continuum? Leadership coach, Cy Wakeman, suggests a single question for the arsenal of every leader. When the shit hits the fan… When an employee complains about a peer… When a deaadline is missed… “What did you do to help?”
Improv training is another way to move everyone up through the levels of got-your-back habit. This is simple, but not easy. Each of us plays at different levels at different times and in different circumstances. Each of us has moments where we fall off the Got Your Back track altogether. With practice, repetition, awareness, and intention, you can enhance your relationships — and (as Lon said at lunch today) “who you are,” in relationships — in business and beyond.