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Distinctions for Teams: assist vs. help

As a teacher of team skills (or leader of a team), which do you find yourself doing more often, assisting the team or helping the team?  There is a very important distinction between the two.

To help someone means to step in, as in an auto accident.  When you see someone on the pavement, you're going to go in and help that person, you're going to touch them, you're going to turn them over, you're going to direct traffic, and so on.

Usually you help someone after they're already in trouble. 

To assist someone (individual or team) means to guide them but not step over the line and help them out of the predicament.  They have to be awake and alive enough to request assisstance rather than needing you to jump in and save the day.

As a teamwork coach, you should be spending 98% of your time assisting the team (or individual team members) when they're well and they're able to ask for help, and 2% of your time stepping in when they're over their heads, are having a really bad day or really need someone to step in and be their best friend for an hour or two. 

Sometimes we tend to help vs. assist because we wish someone had done this for us ehen we were stuck. 

But sometimes it's best for the person (or team) to not get "help" and instead hit bottom until things get so bad they bounce up and reach for assistance.

About Distinctions: 
The first of the two words or terms is generally the better, stronger, more useful one. Usually, nothing is "wrong" with the second word or term; it is simply weaker or less inclusive.  A teamwork coach will hear "where" the group is and/or what word of the two words the team (or a member of the team) is oriented around or coming from.  For example, many groups are still "stuck" in the power dynamic of life (force, dominance, victory, win/lose, etc.).  For a team to evolve, they would want to embrace and reorient around the notion of strength (resourcefulness, collaboration, win/win, development/success from within, etc.).  Even a single distinction can add tremendous value to a team and help them evolve.

© 1997 Copyright by Coach U.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission



Tom this is a great post. This distinction is applicable to any relationship. It reminds me of one of the favorite sayings in our family. Lilla Watson, an Aboriginal woman in Australia said, "If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time. If you have come here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."

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