There are two ways to approach a team.
First, you can assume everyone is out to do as little as possible. The relationship is built on low trust. They’re going to do the bare minimum to make everything all work and then stop there. In this scenario, your job as a leader is to make sure you have every little detail laid out for your team to follow.
In this scenario, critical conversations involve words like why and you.
Why immediately puts everyone on the defensive. “Why did you do X?” “Why didn’t you do B on time?” The latter turns the conversation into a battle. It’s me versus you. This is your fault.
The second way is to assume that everyone is trying to do their best work imaginable. They’re out to impress you and make use of their talents and skills. In this mode of operation, your job as a leader is to point them in the right direction, support them when necessary, and make sure they’re constantly challenged and engaged.
With this latter approach, conversations involve words like what and we.
Take the easy example of “Why did you fail to turn in this big project on time?” What flips the conversation and gives the teammate a chance to disappoint you. “Walk me through what happened with the big project.” We creates a partnership; it’s a reminder that you (the leader) plays a role too. “How can we make sure this project is successful?”
It’s a simple word switch, but it makes a world of difference. It’s hard to condition as well. Our gut reaction is to blame someone. “This wasn’t my fault, but I’ll get to the bottom of it.” We run off and start with why questions and forget to give our teammate a chance.