You must have been there – somewhere in public with a small child. Perhaps you have asked the small child to be careful not to bump into the nice lady. Small child then loudly asks: ‘Do you mean the fat lady?’ Or perhaps you have witnessed the ‘why has that man got such a big nose?’ scenario or, perhaps, one from the A list of cringes: ‘I don’t want to give him a kiss, he smells’.

For some reason, these things are only embarrassing when the nice lady is fat and the man has got a big nose and he smells. It is not such a problem when it is not true. In other words, we can cope when the child makes an observation that patently isn’t true. We can’t cope when what the child has said is, for all the world to see, (or smell), true.

Working with what is true and real is tricky, hard work and sometimes painful. Consequently, human beings find reality hard to handle and so, in turn, try to circumvent or deny it.

And so it is for teams and organisations. Being unprepared to face and work with Reality is a common failing. To offer a well-known example, Paul Moore, former group head of regulatory risk at HBOS, the banking group, was sacked for raising concerns about the bank’s excessive risk-taking. Indeed, the charity, Public Concern at Work, found that more than three-quarters of whistleblowers working in financial services are ignored when they first raise concerns with their employers.

Yet a company or team’s understanding of its Reality is the foundation upon which it will build all that follows. Shaky foundations deliver shaky results as the financial sector testifies.

Uncovering, facing and working with the truth is challenging. Team members need to keep honing the skills required to root out denial and self-delusion. Teams that can do this will build their plans on facts rather than assumptions and are much more likely to succeed in their aims and not find their plans disrupted or in tatters when previous fantasies hit a very real and solid brick wall. Such teams will be equipped to predict more successfully turbulence and to prepare for challenging conditions.

As one of the 9 Dimensions of Team and Leadership Development, Team Reality is made up of everything its members hold to be true. Effective teams make an honest assessment of the resources they have at their disposal, what they can control and what they can influence and any ‘givens’ or constraints within which the team must work. Team Reality requires team members to develop the skills and courage to ask the difficult questions, challenge the ‘sacred cows’ and say what they really think. It requires team members to point out to each other those behaviours that do not support the identity, vision and values of the team.

One of the main purposes of the Team Effectiveness Survey that we offer clients before we run team workshops is to get a sense of shared reality. Even in teams where members know each other and have worked together for some time, the results can be surprisingly disparate. It is in uncovering and then working with those differences of how reality is being perceived across the team that some real breakthroughs in performance can be achieved.

It isn’t easy. But nothing worth creating or achieving ever is. Drop us a line if you would like to discuss the use of our Team Effectiveness Questionnaire inside your organization.