Playing with “Sharp Elbows”
One of my family teams in Iowa explained this concept to me very well. He said, “It’s like basketball, Coach Pete, when we are all under the hoop scrambling to get the ball, some of us can be known for using ‘sharp elbows!’”
“What do you mean by that?” I said. He said, “Some people tend to push EXTRA hard with their elbows which causes more pain than is necessary.” I immediately got it.
This week I saw it again with a new family in our coaching program. As I watched them try to discuss and solve their business issues, I noticed a lot of extra “sharp elbows” and bruised bodies.
Too often, families develop these patterns and lose sight of the fact that it’s even happening, or more importantly, the damage it’s causing to the team.
I blew my whistle and stopped play for a moment.
I asked, “Is anybody noticing the tension or extra elbows getting thrown during this discussion?” They gave me the sheepish, “who me?” look.
So, I reiterate an important point. “We are all on the same team here – right? When you throw that elbow (harsh tone, veiled insult or smart ass remark) you realize that’s not helping the team – right?”
We start over. I give instructions. “Try it again but treat your teammate like you actually care about their well being. When we can build each other up, we can become a more successful and happy team.”
They start learning to throw the ball to one another in a more productive manner. They begin to see how they can win more with each other AND in their marketplace as they become a more cohesive team.
Playing with sharp elbows causes:
- Injuries – physically and mentally
- Unhealthy competition
- Low team morale
- High team turnover
- Lower profitability
Family teams who learn to play with some genuine appreciation for one another learn how to:
- Enjoy competing
- Having some fun along the way
- Build a stronger family and company culture
- Develop healthy ways of challenging each other
So, take a step back and assess your team. Is there an opportunity for more cooperation?
What impact would better teamwork have on the team and the family?
Who is going to get the team on the right path?
This exercise of watching a family team, and using the sports and coaching framework, is a good example of how coaching is different from family counseling or family therapy. There is a time and a place for family therapy that can be very helpful for families. Coaching tends to focus on the observable behavior of the team and helps to improve it.
I hope you keep finding ways for your team to play to their potential!
Pete Walsh offers family business consulting services, workshops, tools and resources as the founder of the Family Business Performance Center. Subscribe to his newsletter or get in touch to get actionable insights to help your family business grow for generations to come.