What makes a high functioning team? (The truth will shock you!)

Ah, click bait. I hate those headlines, so I won’t keep you in suspense. The secret is:

Psychological Safety

When Google investigated what makes a high-functioning team (see NYTimes article), they discovered that the teams in which people spoke up about equally were the most productive, creative, and efficient. The biggest requirement for people to be able to speak up about equally was psychological safety.

To save you the trouble, I’ve gathered some definitions of what makes a space psychologically safe from various experts:

Amy Edmonson of Harvard from her TED talk:
1) Encourage everyone to contribute
2) Listen to one another
3) Review / repeat people’s points
4) Avoid dominating or interrupting
5) Be caring, curious, and nonjudgemental

 

John Looney, Principal Engineer, Intercom
When I worked for Google as a Site Reliability Engineer, I was lucky enough to travel around the world with a group called “Team Development”. …The biggest finding was that the number-one indicator of a successful team wasn’t tenure, seniority or salary levels, but psychological safety.

1) Make respect part of your team’s culture
2) Make space for people to take chances
3) Make it obvious when your team is doing well
4) Make your communication clear, and your expectations explicit
5) Make your team feel safe

 

Dale Carnegie on Uncovering Leadership Blind Spots (and Discovering thePathway to Motivating Your Employees)
These characteristics of leaders bring out the best in employees:
1) Sincere appreciation and praise are essential
2) Employees demand leaders who can admit when they’re wrong
3) Honesty and integrity in action drive engagement
4) Effective leaders truly listen to and value their employees’ opinions

 

Talia Dashow, Play Professional
1) All of the above!
2) Set up a culture where there is no failure, only feedback
3) Play is a great way to practice taking chances and speaking up
4) Some ideas need to grow before they can withstand criticism – give them that time

I’m sure there are more definitions out there, but this is a sampling of what you should look for in your own team environments. Do people listen to each other? Do people ask clarifying questions? Do people dismiss any idea that’s not their own? Do people admit to mistakes? Do people make others pay for their mistakes over and over again?

You probably know most of this stuff already – you know if there is space for your ideas or not. You know if people share their ideas with you, or not. These lists are here to give you some ideas of how to fix things if participation is out of balance.

Social Capital

I’ve been thinking about this idea of social capital for a while. I feel like I only have so much influence, and I need to be careful where I spend it. It’s like the strategy games my husband likes to play. If I have 20 influence points, do I want to spend 10 of them on changing the font on the flyer, or do I save all 20 to fix the grammar? I’m afraid I can’t do both. And so, I don’t always speak up on matters that seem to be small, so I can save my influence for things that seem big.

My fear stems from being too much. I’m afraid that if I speak up all the time, people will stop listening to me. If I take up more space, people may take what I say less seriously. It’s like the more rare a thing is, the more valuable it is. So I have to make my voice be rare, so it can be valued.

I’ve been trying to question this story, because it is a story that I’ve invented. I could tell myself another story, such as my voice is so important that people want to hear from me all the time. That the more I speak up, the more of an expert I am, and the more people will pay attention to me.

But the idea of limited influence points didn’t come from nothing. We get it when someone says “Let’s hear from someone who hasn’t spoken up yet.” I like hearing those words, because I like hearing from everyone! But at the same time, it can imply to a sensitive speaker that they are oversharing. In fact, TMI, Too Much Information, implies that there is such a thing as just the right amount of information, and we need to be socially adept at telling where that line is.

How much is too much seems to depend on social status. Men can get away with talking more in meetings than women can. Higher ranked people can talk more than lower ranked. White people can express more opinions than people of color. At least, that’s my perception of how the world seems to work.

But this means that people don’t speak up about the microaggressions that happen every day. They save up their energy for the big things. They fight for those people of color killed by police, rather than the judge who assumed the man at the table had to be the defendant, rather than the lawyer, based on the color of his skin. I didn’t tell the very tall man that he loomed over me and could he please step back a bit, he was in my space. Why? I was waiting to see if I would have to speak up about something he might say or do that would be more clearly crossing a line. My own comfort is small potatoes compared to assault.

Not speaking up eventually leads to resentment and disengagement, at least in my experience. So I am practicing speaking up about the little things that I once regarded as not worth using up my influence. I’m choosing to believe that there is not a limited amount of social capital, and that I have the right and even obligation to speak my truth whenever it seems important to do so. No one else can speak it for me.

What is your experience? Do you believe in a shortage of social capital? Why or why not?

Resistance Is Futile

As a solo-preneur, I am the only one available to do everything needed for my business. I am quite good at facilitation and public speaking, but notably less good at putting systems in place, making follow-up phone calls, everything having to do with PR, bookkeeping, etc. The things that I am not good at, I tend to resist doing.

Resistance is an interesting beast. I have a tendency to fall into a pattern of being both villain Snidely Whiplash and the Damsel In Distress: “You must pick up the phone.” “I can’t pick up the phone.” “You must pick up the phone!” “I can’t pick up the phone!” Sadly, there is no handsome stranger coming up and saying “I’ll pick up the phone for you!”

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Or maybe, not so sadly. There would be no growth for me if someone else stepped in. No one else can represent me the way I can. And with the kind of work that I do, people will work with me directly and somewhat intimately. If they don’t like me, that’s a problem. So I need to be the one talking to them.

I’m going to digress a bit here, but I promise I’ll get back on point. Many years ago, I viewed exercise as punishment for being overweight. I didn’t understand why thin people exercised – they were already thin, and there was no other possible reason someone would go running. Several things had to shift in order to change this outlook. One, I had to start loving myself at the weight I was. I couldn’t wait to love myself until I got down to goal weight. I need and deserve love and respect at every size, weight, mood, and possible configuration of myself. Two, I had to start to find other benefits to exercise. I had to discover the feelings of enjoyment in movement, enjoyment in being outside to walk, in feeling my heart and lungs work, in feeling stronger each time I went up that darn hill.

I have lost some weight since I did these two things, but that doesn’t matter very much. What matters is that I no longer see losing weight as the only thing I can do that has any value. I see radical self-care as a rebellious act, and rejoice in seeing the strength and tenderness in myself as perfect right now. I am SO MUCH HAPPIER now that I’m not always feeling unworthy and inadequate based solely on the size of my hips. (Sometimes I feel uncomfortably close to the people in the seats next to me, but it’s still only one aspect of who I am, not the only metric that matters.)

Resistance to exercise has gone way down. Now I look forward to my dawn walks, and feel the lack when I don’t have them. I don’t always eat healthy food, but I enjoy the feelings of health and strength in my body when I do. I seem to have slipped the leash of Snidely Whiplash by focusing on all that is good and lovely in myself, regardless of size or reaching a goal weight.

So, to get back to my work discussion above, I found a way last week to slip the leash of resistance around making phone calls. I feel a lot of anxiety about making calls. I’m afraid I won’t get the right person on the phone. I’m worried the other person doesn’t want to hear from me, and that I’m being pushy and rude. I’m anxious I’ll feel stupid and inarticulate and let myself down by doing a bad job of talking on the phone. But I managed to look at all these stories I was telling myself, and to realize that they were only stories, not the truth. That other stories could be true, that people want to hear from me, they’re just too busy to call me, that I’ll look professional and capable if I pick up the phone and call them. That in fact I AM professional and capable, regardless of what other people may think. And, most importantly, that I have something to offer that can make their lives better. I don’t want to push it on people for whom it is a bad match, but I do want to offer it to people for whom it is a good match.

I had the good luck to get a person who was happy to hear from me on my first call. That helped fuel more calls after that. And it helped reinforce the stories that are more positive and helpful. I feel my resistance to making calls today is lower than it was last week because of this experience. It’s like martial arts, meeting force with love rather than more force.

It’s so interesting to see how these stories play out in my life, because I also help people in the work world change the stories they tell. I know how easy it is to believe that someone who isn’t there, who did something I didn’t like, is out to get me. And I know that there are a million other stories which are just as likely to be true. There is no reason I need to get trapped in a story that doesn’t serve me, and I can help you get out of your traps too. Teams often team with mistaken stories that go unchallenged for years. (See what I did there? Team as noun and verb? Makes the English Major in me proud.)

What are you resisting? Resistance may be futile – but you need not be assimilated.

Employee Engagement

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I just heard the most amazing statistic – only about a third of all employees are actually fully engaged at work. About half are not engaged, and the remaining almost 20% are actively disengaged, and sabotaging their employers through lack of productivity, gossip, rumors, and sometimes even working against the interests of the company. I found this staggering. I don’t have the exact numbers (I was getting dressed while watching a webinar, so I didn’t take notes) but it was something like 17-18% were actively disengaged.

I can believe there are 17% of employees who are bitter, bored, or malevolent enough to sabotage their employers. But it’s the half of all employees who are merely not engaged that is amazing to me. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising, given things like poor service at restaurants (especially when the restaurant is mostly empty and there’s not much for the server to do). But this means half of all goods made and services rendered and buildings built and roads resurfaced (or maybe more – I wouldn’t be surprised if certain jobs contain more of the not engaged than others – I would expect more rocket scientists or doctors to be fully engaged, for example, than road workers) are done by people who just don’t care. I don’t know about you, but I really hope my house was built by people who cared at least a little. I don’t want it to fall down around me! And I want my doctor to care about my health at least a little.

I know that a lot of work is boring. I hated a lot of the desk job I did years ago. It was tedious and frustrating and never seemed to end. But I still think there are ways to make work mean something. One way to make it mean something is to get the input of the people who do it about the direction it should go. That means having a way to get the input of everyone involved. And I know that the more I think my employer doesn’t care about me, the less likely I am to participate when invited to. So employers need something more than just a suggestion box. But think of the payoff! What if you could shift your workforce to be 50% fully engaged, instead of only 30%. What if it was 75% fully engaged! Think how much more productive everyone would be. Think how much lower the turnover. Think how much more money you’d make, how many loyal customers you’d gain, how much innovation you could come up with. What is it costing you to have so many employees who just don’t care?

By now you know that the work I do helps get everyone engaged. LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® gets everyone building, and talking about what they built, and involved, and playing, and serious, and giving input. I can tell you right now that if the bosses ignore everything they learn from LSP sessions, the disengagement will grow. But if they use what they learn to change the direction of the organization, those employees will be the best thing to ever happen to that business. We are talking real money, real success, real ROI. This personal stuff really makes a difference!

Practice Makes Perfect

My Dad is a professional musician, and he has always had issues with the saying “Practice makes perfect.” He prefers to say “Perfect practice makes perfect.” After all, you can learn a mistake really, really well if you practice it a lot.

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There’s a lot of pressure on a person though, if they have to have perfect practice. After all, the reason you’re practicing is that you’re NOT perfect yet. In fact, perfect is practically impossible to achieve.

So the question becomes – are you keeping yourself small because you’re afraid you’ll make a mistake?

I don’t know about you, but I hate making mistakes. I hate feeling stupid, embarrassed, flawed, and unreliable. I hate feeling like the other person is looking down on me, or dismisses me, or is going to actively campaign against me with a private twitter war or terrible reviews on Yelp. (Not sure I have that much power, but my fears are strong.)

What I’ve come to realize recently is – I hate playing small even more. I have a big message for the world. I want to get every voice heard, empower everyone to speak up, make every meeting a safe space to show up. Playing small doesn’t serve my future clients, doesn’t tell people it’s safe to be themselves, and doesn’t let me be myself.

If I want to take up more space and be more visible, I have to expect that I will make mistakes. I have to learn to live through the wash of heat that floods my body, making me feel uncomfortable and like I’m in front of the firing squad. It’s not actually life or death. And this, as with any other skill, takes practice.

Women’s Day

 

Today is Int’l Women’s Day. Here in the US, people are participating in a Day Without A Woman, a general strike where people don’t work or shop unless with a women owned business, if that is possible for them.

It’s interesting though. How many women are going to strike from being moms? I still made my kid’s lunch today, took him to school, took him to an appointment. I’m still going to make dinner, help him brush his teeth and tuck him into bed. Women do a lot of work that doesn’t really count as work. But it should.

Women’s rights are being threatened right now, as are the rights of most minorities. Access to basic health care, clean water and air, the right to walk through the world without people touching us or hurting us or sending us away or killing us. Things that if they happened to one of the men in charge he would do something about it, when it happens to the rest of us he doesn’t really care.

So the idea is that we can flex our power today. If enough women stay home from work, if enough women don’t shop at the large companies that own the politicians, we can show that they shouldn’t do things that hurt us. That we can hurt them back.

But it can be hard to do. Do you stay home from work if you’re the main breadwinner for the family? Will you risk being fired? Will you lose a day’s income? Maybe you do stay home from work, spend the day with people you love and not running errands and getting the car fixed. Will you stop making the sandwiches? It doesn’t feel right to hurt one’s own family to make a point to the politicians. But if women really stopped doing all of the work that we do, it would make a huge impact everywhere. In families. In schools. In hospitals. In businesses. Everywhere.

I don’t know what to tell you about where the line should be. I’m still networking today for my own business. Of course it’s woman-owned, since it’s all me. I’m still being a mom, driving, going to appointments. I hope that enough women participate that those in power are inconvenienced, that they notice the power of a large group of people acting together. It would be nice if a general strike could shut down the capitol. I wonder if my wearing red today in solidarity with the Day Without Women will in fact change anything. I think probably not. But I think it would be worse to not join in at all. I want people to know that there are principles I live by, that I think are real and valid and important. Black Lives Matter. Women’s Work Matters. Science Is Real. Kindness Matters. People Need Respect. All Voices Need To Be Heard.

Who Cares What They Think?

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Why should it matter if you get input from everyone at your meeting? Doesn’t it only matter that you tell them what to do?

Well, maybe. If you’re the emergency dispatcher, then yes, all that matters is that they listen to you and go where you tell them. But that’s not what the typical meeting is all about.

What are the benefits of getting input from everyone at the table?

  1. People want to be heard. You hired these people because they are good at what they do, so you should listen to them. It makes them happier to be listened to, which increases morale across the board.
  2. Replacing someone is expensive. If people don’t feel valued, they leave. Daniel Pink wrote about this in his book Drive. People want to feel like their contribution means something.
  3. You get better decisions when you have more data to work from. If you only ever hear from two people, you make decisions with two data points. If you hear from a dozen people, you may end up with 8-15 data points, which makes a stronger decision more likely.
  4. Productivity goes up. When people talk to each other in meetings, they are more likely to talk to each other outside meetings. If you have a useful exchange of views with someone in accounting, when you need a favor from accounting you’re more likely to go back to that person. Which increases productivity.
  5. Engaged employees are more effective. If all someone does is sit in meetings and never contribute, they are not being engaged. There are Employee Engagement Awards to celebrate the companies that know how to keep their people fully involved – and when they do that, they get better results.

Google studied what made high-performing teams, and one of the main factors was how much people participated. Teams where everyone felt welcome to contribute and had a chance to speak up did much better than those where only a few ever spoke up.

What have you seen in your time spent in meetings?