Diving into the secrets of successful teams
Kirjoittanut: Oona Varjanto - tiimistä Avanteam.
The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups
At the beginning of our team´s short journey here in Proakatemia, I decided to read The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle, to get the most out of our team. Coyle visited many successful teams including Google, Disney and Navy SEALS. He observed and interviewed them aggregating similar behaviors and ways of working and collected those to the book. The most important factors were divided into three sections: Building Safety, Sharing Vulnerability and Establish Purpose. This essay is also divided into those three subtitles in order to share information and my personal thoughts about those topics separately.
Organizational behavior student Will Felps did a bad apple experiment in University of South Wales in Australia. In the experiment one person, Nick, contributed to different teams with different negative attitudes. He pretended to be a slacker, downer and a jerk. Clear results showed that his attitude impacted the mindset of others. When he pretends to be tired and bored, soon few more team members start yawning and losing efficiency. If he acts with an attitude of a slacker and just wants to get the job done quickly no matter how sloppy it turns out, other team members adopted that attitude without even realizing it. Afterwards when they were asked about the project, everyone agreed that they did an awesome job and the project went well, even though they actually did not accomplish anything. This is the hardest part of behavior and mindset adaptation, since one might not even realise doing it.
In one team where Nick took part in, his behavior did not affect the team´s attitude. Why? Because one person in the group affected to Nick so that it was almost impossible for him to keep acting negatively. This person used these small belonging cues in order to make everyone feel safe in the team. He would give some extra attention and warmth towards Nick. This made it possible that the negative acting of Nick´s did not reach the others in the team before this one person was able to flip it into something positive. This shows how important each individual is and already one “bad or good apple” in a team can change the attitude of a whole team.
Showing and forwarding the sense of safety is not easy or possible to learn immediately. Some small things that can teach us how to master it are called belonging cues. These small gestures are “verbal and non-verbal signals that create safe connections in the workplace and are critical in ensuring active participation and inclusion” (Bhasin, 2019). These can be for example listening, saying thank you, giving space for everyone and using positive body language.
The most important message one can bring to its team, is the sense of safety. That is the crucial foundation of every successful team. When Coyle interviewed successful teams and asked them how they would describe their team, the word family came up often. The bond with family is based on the feeling of safety; you can be who you are and show your emotions without fear of judgement or rejection. I completely agree with this idea of team as a family. I feel like I can only give 100% of myself if I can trust my co-workers and am not afraid of telling my opinions.
In order to trust others, we need to see their flaws. If we want to be trusted, we need to show our tendency for making mistakes. This is important in a team where trust towards your teammates is essential. According to the book, “I screwed up” is the most important sentence a leader can say. Leader is the one who needs to show example of emotions and tendency to failures. Members need to know that it is okay to make mistakes and that they have the teams support if they do something wrong. Together they can learn from the mistakes and prepare better for the next time.
According to the examples of the successful teams Coyle followed, negative feedback should always be given face to face even though it is hard. That builds more connection and respect between the team members. One great way for the team to learn from its mistakes is AAR (After Action Review) where the whole team goes through what exactly happened and why. This means no blaming, no pointing fingers. Just figuring out why things went the way they did and what should be done differently next time. Even though this might be hard and frustrating, it is important to see the areas of learning and developing.
For me this plays a big role in my own way of working. I am not always trusting myself 100% and if I do not see any vulnerable side of my teammates or leader, I start thinking that they are doing everything perfectly whilst I am feeling that it is only me who is not quite sure what to do or how to do it. In order to ask help and offering help we need to open up and share our improvement areas and our willingness to help.
You need to have clear goals in order to know where you are heading to. Without a goal one cannot define clear steps for the way which makes it hard to head anywhere. The common goal needs to be clear for everyone as well as the path towards it.
Team should also always define why it exists. Purpose and priorities are an important part of daily communication. If those are not reminded and discussed, how to work towards them?
One practical step a team can do is to list vision and mission somewhere into sight and putting those into concrete terms. Defining tasks that everyone can do each day to fulfill those statements makes them a lot easier to reach.
Personally, I usually have problems when it comes to defining the goal or purpose. Often the small projects that I start lead nowhere since I have not stated why I started something and where I want it to head. For example, if I decide that I need to start eating healthier, I usually never define anything more specific. First two weeks goes well but then I start thinking that one pizza is fine, it is okay if I do not cook today since I am busy and before I notice I have started to make these exceptions and excuses almost daily. If I would start with a clear goal, e.g. cooking 5 times a week and doing grocery shopping for the whole week at once, it would be a lot easier to fulfill than vague decision of healthier food. I would also be more motivated when I know exactly what I need to do and feel satisfaction when I have completed the tasks stated. This also applies to projects.
Teamwork in Avanteam
I held a training session about this topic to my team and we had some rewarding discussions. We all agreed that trust is important in a team and without trusting your team members, it is hard to be yourself and give your best to the team. We had a conversation about the importance of feedback and how does it affect to improvement. During our Mökkipaja, we held this 3–hour feedback session, where we talked individually to each team member. First four minutes we needed to only listen feedback given to us, next four minutes we would tell feedback to the other person and last 4 minutes we had a dialogue about the feedbacks. This exercise seemed a bit scary at the beginning but at the end it was exactly what we needed in order to improve our teamwork.
I personally believe that our team is already working well together. Obviously since we just started our teamwork, we still have a lot to improve but already now we are doing well. Everyone is willing to improve and to do their best, which is crucial for development. I would say that the biggest improvement area for us is communication. The channels and the way of communicating is not yet efficient, but we have acknowledged the issues and working towards improving them.
I am genuinely happy to have the opportunity to work in Proakatemia for this spring semester and learn more about teamworking. Already now after 1,5 months I feel that I have learned more than 1,5 years in Kuntokatu, since the teamwork there is so different. On the other hand I know that if I would not have had the experience of working in Kuntokatu, I would not have learned so much already now, since the experiences I got from there gives me a baseline where to compare mine and others communication skills and ways of working. I am willing to develop my team working skills and utilize the learnings during my exchange semester in autumn and later in different teams.
Bhasin, M. (11. December 2019). Okta. Haettu 25. February 2020 osoitteesta Belonging cues: How to Create a Culture on Inclusion + Belonging in the Workplace: https://www.okta.com/blog/2019/12/belonging-cues-how-to-create-a-culture-of-inclusion-belonging-in-the-workplace/
Coyle, D. (2018). The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. New York, United States: Bantam Books, Penguin Random House LLC.