For the past two decades, I have been consumed with positive impact. How do I leave the world better? How do I do great things that help? How do I help teams do great things that help?
When I started my career, the focus was on how my individual contributions could produce this change. As time progressed and my responsibilities increased, the focus moved to how I could create an environment for my team(s) to do their best work.
Years in the trenches - working, managing, leading, coaching, mentoring, reading, applying, learning and incorporating lessons - have surfaced four principles that are common to the highest-producing, highest-functioning teams that I have been a part of.
Lack of trust between team members is a solid indicator that your team, company or agency will be operating from a place of fear, will be high stress, will contain lots of isolated teams and people, will have high turnover and will not be performing as efficiently as it should be.
A “high trust” environment is fundamental and a critical building block for a great team. This environment provides a team with the psychological safety that is needed to create a high-performance, high-retention, collaborative and productive space.
For leaders who want to create a team with high trust as its core, the strategy must include: 1) ensuring that relationship building is a natural, everyday part of people’s work life; 2) enforcing equal airtime for team members during meetings; 3) emphasizing that every team member should assume good intent for each action they observe or experience; and 4) encouraging the vocalizing, vetting and supporting of all the ideas brought forward by team members.
From my experience, taking these steps will normally create a more cohesive, happier, more loyal and more fulfilled team. Productivity normally increases, turnover decreases and teamwork strengthens.
The more dominant (and popular) management techniques that I have seen being commonly used by leaders tend to emphasize the chain of command, information layers and the filtering of context and data about projects and goals down the chain.
Unfortunately, this creates an environment where team members are operating with half truths and missing information. For successful execution of your team’s mission, this raises a set of interesting problems that actively work against the team being successful.
A “high truth” environment is built on transparency, realistic expectation setting, facilitating and having difficult conversations and giving and receiving constructive criticism well. A team member who knows the reality of the mission, the project, how the project contributes to the mission, the actual constraints of the project and the actual business, legal, technical and social factors that shape the project will have a higher probability of making great decisions. This will also help with delivery that is on time, in scope, under budget and embraced by happy and satisfied customers.
Unfortunately, the groundwork for leaders to build this environment involves dealing with messy human emotions and concepts that most of us are trained to avoid. Fortunately, the Harvard Business Journal has a cache of valuable publications that help you take the steps necessary.
Empathy is the ability to see and understand a situation that you are involved with from the perspectives of the other people in the situation. My experience is that “high-empathy” colleagues normally lead to collaborations and customer products that are well-received, joyful and successful.
Ever work with someone that rubs everyone on the team the wrong way? Ever have a teammate that only understands, advocates and pushes their perspective or agenda? Ever interact with a coworker that immediately defaults to an us-against-them mentally? If you have, then you had the pleasure of working with a “low empathy” individual.
Generally, the best course of action for leaders is to hire for “high empathy.” If this is not possible and you have team members that need to evolve as human beings on the empathy front, then a leader has a lot of customized and individualized coaching and mentoring to perform with these colleagues.
There is nothing worse than working for an organization with a vague mission, a vague vision and even vaguer project definitions. Though some flexibility is often necessary in software development projects, flexibility should and can be built into goals that are clear.
Lack of clarity allows every level of management and every team member to interpret goals the way they want to. Given that everyone has their own unique story and journey means that there will be multiple viewpoints of what should get done and multiple people doing very different misaligned things. They might also claim that they are synergistically working towards the same outcome.
Leaders can and should detect these misinterpretation issues and take measures to provide clarity and define reality using a common set of agreed-upon fundamentals around tasks and goals. The series of interactions that are necessary are also great ways to enable crucial relationship building that is necessary for high trust environments.
Over the last five years, Google’s quest to build a perfect team has codified and put formal names to the experiences I have had. Their study, available here, is a great read for someone who wants to go deeper.
Building great teams that produce great work is difficult, but a necessity in today’s world. Through a series of failures and hard life lessons, I have seen the importance of trust, truth, empathy and clarity. I have used these concepts on each team that I have either created or been a part of, over the last decade, to great result. I hope would they help you.
This post was also published on GovLoop.
Dr Tyrone Grandison
Executive. Technologist. Change Agent. Computer Scientist. Data Nerd. Privacy and Security Geek.