When we encounter a new situation, we use our prior experiences as a filter to view the situation. By bringing this prior learning to bear, we avoid repeating the same mistake again. So, we look for patterns from old situations that we can correlate to the new situation at hand. When we run into a situation often enough, our response becomes a habit that we use as a default response when we perceive a pattern to exist.

Problem: Seeing the present through the past

I recently encountered this as I was working with a group of people to transition away from using waterfall project management to using a Scrum framework to deliver technical projects. The people I was helping immediately went to their memory to search for experiences similar to the Scrum techniques I was teaching them. I would have fared better had I been able to erase their memories concerning project delivery and started with a clean slate.

What got in the way?  This group was focused on correlating how they did things in the past to what I was teaching them now. And, because of how they performed their work in the past, they had difficulty understanding what I was teaching them in the moment. They were looking for what they knew, for familiar patterns. 

Coaching tools to help teams move past enmeshed practices

To help them learn a new approach to project management, I used coaching techniques including powerful questions, exercises to change their perspective, and reflecting what I was observing. I challenged them to take on bigger, more audacious goals and acknowledged that I saw them as being greater than the sum of their people. I was also their accountability partner.  Eventually, the team made a breakthrough in understanding and became a high-performing team.

The results? The team was able to WOW stakeholders with their ability to deliver functionality much more quickly than before due to their higher level of collaboration. They incorporated feedback within a matter of hours instead of what had taken weeks before their training. The quality was 40% better than with traditional waterfall.  Employee engagement improved, and people outside the team were eager to either join the team or start using Scrum.

This team’s learning curve prompted me to think about perspectives and perception. How often do we not see what is truly in front of us because we're blinded by what we want to see or choose to see in others? If we look for a behavior in a co-worker because he always acts that way, that's exactly what we'll see. Would we recognize when the co-worker changed his behavior? What if he recognized his behavior and was honestly working to grow and improve himself? How would our default response impact his growth and initiative to change? Having been on the receiving end of default responses, as we've all been, I can tell you that it's disheartening and de-motivating for me.

A three-step process for shifting perspectives

So, how do we navigate these tricky waters? Here's one technique I used to help the team shift their perspective:

The first step is to recognize when you're using this default perspective to view a situation. Understanding and acknowledging that you're using a default perspective will allow you to make a conscious choice to change your perspective and your thinking in the future.

The second step is to consciously look at the situation from a new perspective where you will be able to see the different behavior. You must be open and willing to see it. When you do see it, make sure you recognize, acknowledge and reinforce it in a way that best fits the person. This could be a public acknowledgment, a written note, or a little something that you give to the person. Remember that this acknowledgment must mean something to the person receiving it, not just to you.

The third step is to make a habit out of looking from this new perspective for this new behavior pattern from the person. Taking this approach will begin building trust between you and the other people in your life. And trust is the foundation for all the relationships we have. Imagine what would be possible if you were trusted by all the people in your life.

Remember to be kind to yourself and avoid beating yourself up for using your default perspective. You're also on a journey to improve yourself, which sometimes involves acknowledging things that you may be uncomfortable with. That discomfort is a signal that you're growing outside of your comfort zone.

I'd love to hear how this 3-step process works for you. Please take a few minutes after practicing with this process and let me know how it worked for you.