How does your team deal with differences?

teamwork Jun 01, 2020

"It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences."

- Audre Lorde

Have you ever stopped to think about how your team deals with differences? You should... because those differences will eventually make or break you.

Which way does your team cleave?

Cleave is such a funny word. It's short, with its singular syllable, and it has two definitions which are completely opposite one another.

According to the dictionary, cleave can mean "to split or sever something", as in, "use the large axe to cleave wood for the fire".

It can also mean "to adhere strongly to", as in, "in times of hardship, people cleave to their faith".

In other words, your differences can cause your team to cleave in one of two ways.

You can go this direction:


...or, you can go this direction:


After 20 years of working with teams and helping them to become more cohesive, I find that teams either cleave one way or the other on a regular basis. It's simply part of the culture of the group.

What I mean is differences in personality, perspective, approach, communication and leadership styles, etc., either drive team members crazy and create a divide - think eye rolls, water cooler gossip, tolerating each other but not really engaging - OR... it's celebrated.

Some teams value new ways of thinking. They ask questions like, "what am I missing?" or "can you tell me more about why you feel so strongly about that?", and they praise each other for sharing their own unique contributions.

Think about your team and ask yourself, "which way do we cleave?"

If it's not the direction you would like, do you have a plan for changing it?

I'm always of the opinion that if you don't do something to proactively shape your culture, it might take on a form that you don't like.

Then what are you going to do?

One thing that helps is to establish a framework for communication and a vocabulary that is helpful in defining what's happening without ascribing judgement.

This is where the Color Code can be extremely valuable to a team. Think about it. There are four personality styles. No one is better or worse than any other. They all have unique sets of strengths, which we ALL need if we're going to be at our best.

They also have limitations, which are essential to understand!

First of all, they help us identify what is happening. For instance, if you know that somebody is a Red, you understand that their ability to communicate directly (which is wonderful, by the way) can go into hyper-drive at times and come across as being insensitive.

The magic of having the Color Code as a framework allows you to:

#1: Not take it personally, and

#2: Have the ability to easily redirect things. "Hey, Sarah. I think this conversation is getting a little too Red. Can we keep the focus, but sprinkle in some White?" (Which is much better than saying to someone else in the office later, or even thinking, "Why does Sarah have to be such a jerk? Would it kill her to be a little nicer?")

It also takes the pressure off of individuals by helping them understand that they're not the only people in the world who struggle with certain things. If John is a Blue who is rigid/judgmental, it's generally helpful for him to learn that his experience is actually common for other Blues, too. Knowing that, he might not be so hard on himself, which frees him to be less emotional about trying to make adjustments.

Whether you use the Color Code or another system, having a shared vocabulary and framework for discussing and even celebrating differences will go a long way in helping your team "cleave" in a desirable direction and create the type of culture that everyone wants to be part of.

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If you have personally experienced the power of the Color Code and would like to bring it to your organization – or even to your personal clients – it’s time to take the next step by becoming a Certified Color Code Trainer!

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