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Unleash Team Potential: 5 Tools to Impove Balanced Thinking and Trust in Your Organization

I believe that every person can achieve greatness when their environment works for them. In organizational settings, achieving greatness requires being part of a team that is innovative, diverse, high performing, efficient, motivated, adaptable, etc. Teams with these qualities change the world and create immense value.

Unfortunately, teams like this are rare. Instead we tend to be surrounded by disengagement, distrust, inefficient communication, fear, toxicity, burnout, inflexibility, stagnation, etc.

It’s not uncommon to be in a team with people that are disengaged during meetings, that are frequently absent, and likely producing low-quality work. Disengaged team members tend to have poor relationships with each other and are less likely to take initiative or suggest new ideas. These same people have a negative impact on team morale, productivity, and the overall culture of the organization.

This is the sad reality for far too many people and the ripple effects on society are devastating. Fortunately, by incorporating the tools of balanced thinking, we can create an environment where greatness can thrive.

Balanced Thinking

Balanced thinking is the practice of finding the middle path between opposing extremes. It helps us see many different ways to approach problems and make better decisions. Environments where balanced thinking is practiced are more effective at bringing out the best in people than those where it is not.

Balanced thinking does a great deal to foster trust. It’s been well studied that trust is a critical ingredient for people to do their best work. Neuroeconomic researcher Paul Zak has researched the benefits of trust for decades. In his book Trust Factor and related HBR article he shows the impact an environment of trust can have on employees:

Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report:

  • 74% less stress
  • 106% more energy at work
  • 50% higher productivity
  • 13% fewer sick days
  • 76% more engagement
  • 29% more satisfaction with their lives
  • 40% less burnout.

The enemy of balanced thinking is extreme thinking. Extreme thinking erodes trust by promoting false dichotomies that polarize people and shut down ideas. Eroded trust from extreme thinking is a core contributor to disengaged and inefficient teams. Many of us have experienced extreme thinking in a workplace where people say things like: “No one will get any work done if they work remote.” “As long as we close the deal nothing else matters.” “You have to tell people they suck to motivate them, it’s just being honest.” “The company won’t survive if we don’t lay people off.”

Imagine how much better a workplace would be if everyone’s ideas were listened to and seriously considered. A workplace where you bring up a solution to a problem and you hear “that’s an interesting idea, tell me more about how that would affect x”. Where each team’s objectives matter equally. Where power, recognition, and compensation are spread proportionally throughout the company. Where feedback for mistakes sounds like “This project didn’t go well, are you doing ok? What can I do to support you?”

In order to enjoy the benefits of trust and help the people around us achieve greatness we have to practice balanced thinking. It’s a hard thing to do because it’s complex and requires more energy than our default tendencies. By consistently practicing with the right tools we can overcome these challenges and it can become 2nd-nature to us.

Person balancing on a bicycle
Person balancing on a bicycle

Tools for Finding Balance

There are several different tools and strategies that can help us move towards balanced thinking:

  • Mindfulness
  • “AND” Statements
  • Spectrums
  • Matrices
  • Accepting Messiness

Mindfulness

In order to improve our thinking we must first be aware of our thinking. Awareness comes through intentional, daily mindfulness practice. There are many resources available to help us practice mindfulness. I personally enjoy using this YouTube playlist every day. For a deeper dive into the topic of mindfulness the Headspace company has a great mindfulness guide.

“AND” Statements

Training yourself to use the word “AND” or the phrase “AND ALSO” can change the way we think and speak to be more balanced. Using “AND” forces us to consider how two options can coexist simultaneously even when they seem dramatically different. Our default tendency is to use the word “BUT”. The word “BUT” has an exclusionary, negating function to it.

🚫 I really like working with you BUT your work isn’t meeting expectations

The word “AND” has a joining, additive function that expresses that both sides are valid.

✅ I really like working with you AND your work isn’t meeting expectations

Using “AND” this way adds more balance to our thinking just as it adds more balance to our sentences. It helps us accept that there are many valid perspectives and that life is rarely mutually exclusive.

“Why Not Both” meme
“Why Not Both” meme

Spectrums

Thinking of ideas as spectrums rather than good or bad improves balance by moving our mind away from extremes and into the middle. We have more balanced thinking when we don’t limit ourselves to choosing between only one of two seemingly opposing options. Instead the goal is to examine opposing options and find as many ways to combine them as possible. This opens us up to a variety of more interesting choices.

Remixed Spectrum Policy – https://sketchplanations.com/the-spectrum-policy

Matrices

Another tool that helps us see a clearer view of the interconnected possibilities in front of them is a matrix or grid. A matrix takes two opposing options and shows how they can overlap. One of my favorite matrices is Kim Scott’s Radical Candor.

Radical Candor Matrix
Radical Candor Matrix

This matrix shows how to find balance between the two opposing ideas of “Care Personally” and “Challenge Directly”. It shows that we don’t have to choose one of them. We should do both.

Accept the Messiness

The tools outlined so far are very useful for balanced thinking. However, these tools won’t get us very far unless we are willing to accept the increased complexity that come with them. Balanced thinking rewards us with better decisions that build trust. The tradeoff is that we now have more choices, ideas, and perspectives to consider. More analysis and critical thinking is required to evaluate the additional information. We must accept the reality of this added work or we’ll most certainly revert back to easier, more straightforward patterns of extreme thinking. The acceptance encourages us to focus on building our balanced thinking skills. Learning and practicing these skills makes us stronger so that balanced thinking feels easy.

We can do it

While balanced thinking can be difficult it is very achievable. They key is to make consistent, incremental changes. If this guy can learn to ride a backwards bicycle, then it is definitely possible for us to change our thinking to be more balanced. As we do this, and help others do the same, we will create a better environment for ourselves and our teams. We will build much needed trust which will allow greatness to flourish.

Leave a comment about how this has helped you, examples of balanced thinking in your life, or any questions you may have.

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