The “Support” Trap And 3 Questions to Avoid It

Crawford Hart 
Guest Contributor

Men’s teams have gone through myriad transformations over the years, to say nothing of the organizations that have evolved around them. Still, once you burrow down through the various layers, what you are left with is unchanged from 35 years ago: a team of men whose primary purpose is to support each other to be the best man each can be.

When teams meet this obligation, they create the internal cohesion that allows them to participate in ever widening spheres of activity. When they falter, they discover that they have nothing to offer each other, and certainly nothing to bring to the world at large. So what is support? Ask any team, they’ll be glad to tell you, “It’s what we do at our meetings.” So why do so many get stuck?

One word: story. Everyone’s got a story and every team has a storyteller, maybe two or three, maybe everyone on the team. Often as not, they’re damned compelling stories.

Some stories will bring tears to your eyes. Some will suck you in, make you ask, “And then what happened?” All that’s missing is a Pepsi and a bowl of popcorn. Here’s something stories generally are not. They’re not about results attained or goals realized. Such events tend to speak for themselves and need little to no explanation.

Stories are mostly about problems. And therein lies the rub. Try to support a problem. Good luck with that. Problems are a void, a negative space, a black hole that sucks up good intentions, our natural impulse to be compassionate, and our most sincere desire to help. Problems present nothing to grasp onto. They drag everyone involved into the mud and offer no way out.

That’s why the only specific requirement given teams at the outset was that the men set goals. There is no problem that the setting of a goal cannot properly address. And goals are easy to support. Setting and supporting goals constitute the core purpose of a team meeting. So how do you set goals, and monitor each member’s progress from meeting to meeting, without collapsing into story hour; or as the case can too often be, three hours or more?

You could probably tell your entire life story in three minutes if you had to. So it’s a fair assumption that whatever has gone on in someone’s life since the previous meeting, involving his stated goal, could easily be dispatched in three minutes. A good rule of thumb: anything over three minutes, you’re listening to story. Time it. Enforce it. And don’t let the the team get sucked in. Otherwise, everyone else will be doing all the work and your storyteller will be sitting there waiting for you to write the ending.

If you want to streamline the process further, make sure that within those three minutes, these questions are addressed:

  1. What did you want?
  2. What did you get?
  3. What’s your next step?

There’s always a next step, and it’s the focus on that and on the difference between the first question and the second question that will keep a man moving forward toward a goal and away from the story about his problem. There need be no judgment of success or failure here. If you’ve given your best, and come up short, deal with it. Either you over-estimated your preparedness and abilities, or you under-estimated the obstacles. Adjust, and go again.

But if you attain your goal, it’s still no time to sit back and crack open a beer. As Harvey Keitel so aptly put it in Pulp Fiction, “Before you start sucking each other’s dicks, there’s work to be done.” Either you sold yourself short, playing it safe when you could have taken on more, or you over estimated the task before you. Set your sights higher next time. Either way, you’re looking to the future instead of facing backwards to a past where things just didn’t work out right.

No one comes to a team meeting to listen to problems. They come to be reminded that they have what it takes to overcome any obstacle. Give each man that, and your team will thrive.

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