Recently it seems that every leader I talk to tells me some story about triangulation. They don’t call it that, necessarily, but that’s what they’re describing. Here’s what I’m hearing:
As I said in my last newsletter, triangulation is a common dynamic in organizational and team systems. When there’s conflict between Person A and Person B, A talks to Person C (usually in a complaining, criticizing kind of way) instead of dealing directly with B. In other words, instead of having open, honest conversations with the person involved in the conflict, people triangulate by venting their feelings and stories with other people.
Triangulation is a pretty common human impulse – most of us want to avoid the discomfort of hard conversations – but it’s also a death knell for teams and organizations. Triangulation starts a whole cascade of events that undermine trust and team performance:
This dynamic creates a lot of what a colleague of mine calls “underbrush.” Ultimately, when triangulation is an organizational habit, there’s so much underbrush that a relatively minor event or misunderstanding can become the lit match that sets off a conflagration, burning everything in sight.
So, what’s a leader to do? How can you cultivate a team environment where people talk to each other rather than about each other?
Your turn: What are your stories of triangulation? How have you seen it play out in your organization or team? What have you done in response, and how has it worked? I’d love to hear your experience!
Photo courtesy of Tim Green, Flickr Creative Commons