One of the keys to a high performing team according to Google research is a sense of psychological safety. When people think of a team that really worked together well, they often describe the respect they had for each other. Or how ideas were welcome and free flowing.
Not about trust falls
But how do you build that trust? A lot of people groan when they hear the word ‘team building’ and ask whether they are going to have to do trust falls or reveal uncomfortable things about themselves prematurely. One thing that you can do when a new project team starts is to spend some time coming up with agreements about how the group is going to work together. In my experience, it works better if the group comes up with their own set of agreements rather than just using a set of generic ground rules that the project manager declares.
Here is a simple exercise for creating those agreements. First ask each person in the group to pair up with a person and describe a time when they were on a team that worked really well. After each person has had a chance to talk about their story, have them think about what the characteristics were of the team. Words such as respect, dependability, open communication will likely emerge. The key is to not stop here. Ask the group what behaviors demonstrate each of these words to them. What does ‘respect’ look like?
Otherwise ‘respect,’ ‘transparency,’ are big vague concepts. Each person has their own image of what these are and what are the actions and behaviors that encompass those concepts for them. It is too easy for groups to agree to these concepts without having gotten clear on what they are agreeing TO DO in order to make that happen.
What does respect mean to you?
When I have done this with teams, some of the most interesting conversations come around the concept of ‘respect.’ What demonstrates that to one person can be very different to another. For example, for one person respect may be embodies in not being interrupted. For another person, respect may be demonstrated by a lively debate (with interruptions). Without getting specific, the group assumes they are clear on expectations while they may actually be widely divergent.
Once you have agreed on the behaviors for each characteristic, you can then write up a set of agreements that the group pledges to aspire to. Having made this list explicit, makes it easier for team members to bring up issues in the future if they feel a team member is not following the agreements. It is also helpful to check in periodically and ask the group how they think they are doing on their agreements. What might need to shift to be better aligned with the agreements?
Taking the step to get clear on what are the behaviors that will help the group do their best work is a concrete step toward building the psychological safety for that good work. Need help building trust on your team or within your organization? Reach out for a coaching call.
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