A red flag goes up whenever I walk into an office and see a sign hanging on the wall that reads: Your problem does not equate to my emergency. This sign makes me cringe because it is a clear indication of a me-first/team-second culture.
I’ve seen several different variations of this sign—Your poor planning is not my emergency, A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine, and the overtly sarcastic Let me drop everything and work on your problem. None of these variations are particularly welcoming.
When I see this sign, I feel compelled to ask two questions, the first being: Why isn’t their problem your emergency?
Good teammates are invested in their teams. They view their teammates’ problems as their problems. An emergency is simply a problem wrapped in urgency. Hence, good teammates view their teammates’ emergencies as their emergencies.
Being unwilling to equate a teammate’s problem to your emergency violates the good teammate code of putting the team ahead of yourself. Nobody enjoys being inconvenienced. To have your work disrupted by others’ problems, especially ones of their own making, is not pleasant. But enduring the inconvenience is necessary if helping them is what’s best for your team.
The second question I feel compelled to ask is: What happened that necessitated the hanging of that sign?
It would be cavalier to not also consider the issue from the opposing perspective. Maybe the person who hung the sign is a selfish grouch whose attitude needs adjusted, or—more likely—they’re someone whose past kindness was taken advantage of.
Being unwilling to equate a teammate’s problem to your emergency may violate the good teammate code of putting the team ahead of yourself, but so does being inconsiderate of others. If your actions routinely inconvenience other team members, then you need to re-evaluate your methodology.
Does a variation of one of the aforementioned signs hang in your office? Consider taking it down and adopting instead the mindset of an emergency room physician.
Every patient who comes to the emergency room has a problem. The emergency room physician’s job is to help them with those problems. The physician doesn’t resent the patients for having problems, object to being inconvenienced, or get annoyed by how many patients come into the emergency room with problems.
Sometimes the physician must weigh the urgency of the patients’ problems. Gunshot wounds and heart attacks are more pressing than sprained ankles. But the physician is receptive to helping with every problem and helping every patient.
Emergencies are rare occurrences. Fifty individuals may come into the emergency room with the same problem on the same day. But if the same individual comes in with the same problem for fifty days, then it is no longer a matter of urgency. It’s a matter of competency.
To provide the same type of care to that patient wouldn’t be helping them, it would be enabling them. Good teammates don’t enable bad behaviors; they confront them. In this case, the best way to help the patient would be to bring the issue to the attention of someone who has the authority to put an end to their behaviors.
If you have teammates on your team who see your emergencies as their emergencies, make sure you reciprocate their kindness. Make sure you also recognize and reward it. And most importantly, make sure you don’t take advantage of it.
As always…Good teammates care. Good teammates share. Good teammates listen. Go be a good teammate.