"No! Don't touch the hot stove."
"No! Don't text and drive."
In these examples, "no" is actually positive to alert us from burning ourselves and not driving while distracted.
In other situations, primarily in our professional lives, we perceive saying "no" will be viewed as negative. This leads to saying "yes" to much more than we can accomplish and the mistaken idea that if we're busy it means we're valued more. Does always being busy with more equal accomplishing more?
Here's a scenario many of us have seen play out...
Team Leader: Thanks for your engagement today everyone! As we wrap up our time together we have one new task. It's a monthly financial report for our most recent grant. Does this sound like something any of you would be interested in helping us out with?
Team Member: Sure, I'll do it.
Team Leader: That's great, thanks for helping out the team with this really important report. Ok, we'll see you all at our next meeting!
After the meeting...
The team leader is so happy a member of the team quickly stepped up to help out. They feel like this shows great overall engagement! Feeling proud of their leadership, they move on to other priorities.
The team member is feeling good about being seen as a good team player by everyone's encouraging response to their volunteer move. They make some notes about their new report tasking for easier follow-up later on.
The next day...
In reviewing some notes from yesterday's meeting, the team leader is curious about how the team member who volunteered is going to handle this new responsibility. Are they the best person to complete the financial report? They console their worries by thinking the team member needs a chance to have this experience.
The team member begins to figure out what's involved in the report they volunteered to complete by digging into the grant details. They are beginning to realize it's going to take hours away from their other priorities and are not sure who to collaborate with on the financials for this particular grant.
Fast forward 2 weeks to the report's due date...
The team member is getting increasingly stressed about the financial report that's due by the end of the day. It has been hard to find enough time to dedicate to this new task and stay on top of other responsibilities. There is a ton of data missing and some of the formulas are incorrectly displaying critical figures. The stress is growing.
The team leader decides to check in on how the report is coming along since the deadline is today and it has to be reviewed before final submission. They find a stressed-out team member and a report that's in fairly bad shape.
Close of the business day...
Other team members are asked to stay late with the team member who did their best but struggled to complete to report. The team runs out of time, the report is late to the team leader for review, and it doesn't reflect the actual status of their progress.
What happened here?
Tons! Waiting until the end of the meeting to assign the task downplayed the importance and put pressure on all team members to volunteer. The team member who stepped up lacked the clarity needed to complete the task on time. The team leader extended their trust to the volunteer in an area they lacked expertise and didn't check in with them until it was too late. The team member, wanting to be seen as a great team player, was afraid to ask for help. Also, other team members failed to check in with the one who volunteered. You can, no doubt, think of additional consequences that impacted teamwork.
By trying to be seen as a great team player, we volunteer for things that others are actually better suited for. Without realizing it, we've just undermined team collaboration, effectiveness, and efficiency. It's not that we shouldn't volunteer for things we are curious about, it's perhaps better if we are honest and respectful to the team and don't take the lead. Getting involved, and showing interest to learn is great! Collaboration should be the goal.
"We rise by lifting others." -Robert Ingersoll
Saying "no" gives opportunities to others. The others on the team have the gifts, talents, training, or education appropriate for the opportunity. It takes courage to suggest an appropriate team member who gives the team the best chance for success. An offer to assist or help re-delegate tasks is part of effective teamwork. For our success, others must also be successful. It's the job of everyone to create an environment where trust can flourish and strengths are leveraged so creativity and imagination lead the team instead of fear.