Tag Archives: teams

Four Secrets of Building a Shared Team Identity

Four Secrets of Building a Shared Team Identity

GUEST POST from David Burkus

Creating shared identity on a team is crucial to building a high-performing one. Shared identity refers to the extent to which team members feel the same sense of who they are as a designated group. It indicates whether or not individual members truly feel like this is the team they’re a part of and most loyal to.

Decades of social science research have shown that individuals make sense of their world by applying categories and labels to their environment—including themselves and the people around them. “Team” is one such label, and it carries great importance, because when we identify with a particular group, that group shapes our own identity and behavior.

A strong shared identity on a team reduces conflict, standardizes norms of behavior, increases cohesion and collaboration, and ultimately enhances team performance. In this article, we will explore four key actions that leaders can take to foster a shared identity within their teams.

1. Start With Purpose

The first action in creating shared identity on a team is to start with purpose. Understanding the purpose of the team’s work and how it aligns with the organization’s mission is the first step in creating a shared identity. For most teams, this isn’t about restating or even remembering the larger organization’s mission statement. It’s about how their specific work relates to that overall mission. More importantly, it’s about who is positively affected by the team working well together.

One question to distill this “who” is simple, asking the team “Who is served by the work that we do?” By answering that, team members can gain a deeper understanding of the impact they have on the organization and the people they serve. And when team members recognize the significance of their contributions, they are more likely to feel motivated and engaged/ Identifying the specific group of people that benefit from the team’s performance allows team members to connect their work to real-world outcomes and identify with the team to realize those outcomes.

2. Build On Values

The second action in creating shared identity on a team is to build on values, meaning to determine the team’s specific values and how they want to treat each other. By identifying the values that the team wants to emphasize in their interactions, team members can establish a common set of principles to guide their behavior. Or as Seth Godin is fond of saying, it’s about emphasizing that “people like us, do things like this.”

The other benefit of discussing values is that it establishes the compromises that the team would never make in serving their purpose. By defining the non-negotiables, team members can align their actions and decisions with the team’s values. And as team members internalize those non-negotiables, they start to identify with the values underlying them and align their behavior accordingly. Not surprisingly, identifying more and more with those values helps them identify more strongly with the team that wrote them.

3. Focus On Goals

The third action in creating a sense of shared identity on a team is to focus on goals. By breaking down the team’s purpose and values into specific goals, team members can have a clear understanding of what they are working towards. These goals should be challenging yet achievable, providing team members with a sense of purpose and direction. Sometimes these goals, objectives, or key performance indicators are handed to the team from higher up in the organization. But even then, it’s important to have a team-wide discussion about the assignments and create milestones and sub-goals collectively to build a plan of action.

Setting the team’s goals for completion lays the groundwork for setting the individual goals team members will use to hold each other accountable. When team members have personal goals that contribute to the overall team goals, they are more likely to feel invested in the team’s success. And when those goals are achieved and celebrated, shared identity grows even more. By acknowledging and celebrating achievements, team members feel valued and recognized for their contributions. This fosters a sense of camaraderie and encourages continued collaboration and success.

4. Define Habits

The final action in creating a sense of shared identity is to define habits. Habits here means establishing norms and behaviors for communication and collaboration within the team. It’s about building group norms and expectations. Defining habits means agreeing to use certain communication tools and deciding how they will be utilized. By establishing guidelines for email, instant messaging, and other communication platforms, team members can ensure effective and efficient communication. This reduces misunderstandings and promotes collaboration.

Defining habits has a secondary benefit similar to building on values discussed above. As people share in the process of defining habits, they take greater ownership over the finished set of norms. And as their actions align more strongly with the group norms, their sense of identity with that team grows stronger as well. Overtime, they start to feel less like they act in a certain way because it was laid out in the group norms and more like they act a certain way because “that’s just what we do.” The “we” here being a short but strong signal of shared identity.

Creating shared identity on a team is crucial for achieving success. By starting with purpose, building on values, focusing on goals, and defining habits, leaders can foster a sense of belonging and connection among team members. This leads to a more focused, cohesive, and productive team. By implementing these four actions, leaders can create an environment where team members work together towards common goals and in pursuing those goals, do their best work ever.

Image credit: Unsplash

Originally published on DavidBurkus.com on July 24, 2023

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Top 10 Human-Centered Change & Innovation Articles of May 2024

Top 10 Human-Centered Change & Innovation Articles of May 2024Drum roll please…

At the beginning of each month, we will profile the ten articles from the previous month that generated the most traffic to Human-Centered Change & Innovation. Did your favorite make the cut?

But enough delay, here are May’s ten most popular innovation posts:

  1. Five Lessons from the Apple Car’s Demise — by Robyn Bolton
  2. Six Causes of Employee Burnout — by David Burkus
  3. Learning About Innovation – From a Skateboard? — by John Bessant
  4. Fighting for Innovation in the Trenches — by Geoffrey A. Moore
  5. A Case Study on High Performance Teams — by Stefan Lindegaard
  6. Growth Comes From What You Don’t Have — by Mike Shipulski
  7. Innovation Friction Risks and Pitfalls — by Howard Tiersky
  8. Difference Between Customer Experience Perception and Reality — by Shep Hyken
  9. How Tribalism Can Kill Innovation — by Greg Satell
  10. Preparing the Next Generation for a Post-Digital Age — by Greg Satell

BONUS – Here are five more strong articles published in April that continue to resonate with people:

If you’re not familiar with Human-Centered Change & Innovation, we publish 4-7 new articles every week built around innovation and transformation insights from our roster of contributing authors and ad hoc submissions from community members. Get the articles right in your Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin feeds too!

Have something to contribute?

Human-Centered Change & Innovation is open to contributions from any and all innovation and transformation professionals out there (practitioners, professors, researchers, consultants, authors, etc.) who have valuable human-centered change and innovation insights to share with everyone for the greater good. If you’d like to contribute, please contact me.

P.S. Here are our Top 40 Innovation Bloggers lists from the last four years:

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A Case Study on High Performance Teams

New Zealand’s All Blacks

A Case Study on High Performance Teams

GUEST POST from Stefan Lindegaard

The New Zealand All Blacks’ rugby team exemplifies high performance through a blend of deep cultural traditions, continuous improvement, and exceptional teamwork. Renowned for their winning legacy, the All Blacks have harnessed their unique team ethos and operational strategies to maintain dominance in international rugby.

Deep Dive into the All Blacks’ Team Dynamics

1. The Essence of Their High Performance Culture: At its core, the All Blacks’ success is driven by a strong team culture that emphasizes collective responsibility and personal excellence. Each player is selected not only for their athletic prowess but also for their ability to contribute to the team’s ethos, which is famously encapsulated by the mantra, “Better People Make Better All Blacks.”

2. Leadership and Collective Responsibility: The team operates under a shared leadership model where senior players are tasked with mentoring younger teammates, fostering a sense of responsibility and continuity. This structure enhances cohesion and ensures that the team’s values are imparted effectively across generations.

3. Continuous Cultural and Performance Improvement: Inspired by the concept of ‘Kaizen’, or continuous improvement, the All Blacks strive to enhance every aspect of their performance, from on-field strategies to mental preparation. This approach keeps them adaptable and competitive, regardless of the evolving nature of the game.

Lessons from the All Blacks’ Team Strategies

1. Unity and Shared Vision: The All Blacks’ unity is their strength. A shared vision guided by their cultural values leads to cohesive team efforts. Leaders can learn the importance of aligning team members towards a common goal and the powerful impact of a united front.

2. Cultural Legacy and Identity: The integration of cultural rituals like the Haka into their routine not only intimidates opponents but also strengthens their identity and resolve. This teaches leaders the value of embracing and promoting a unique team identity to enhance solidarity and pride.

3. Mental Toughness and Resilience: The mental preparation of players to handle high-pressure situations is a testament to their resilience. Developing mental toughness is crucial for teams to perform under pressure.

4. Adaptability and Tactical Innovation: The All Blacks’ ability to adapt their game plan in real-time according to the situation on the field underscores the importance of flexibility and innovation in achieving superior results.

5. Empowerment and Accountability: Empowering players to take ownership of their roles and the outcomes teaches accountability and encourages individual contribution to the team’s success.

Reflecting on the All Blacks’ Approach to High Performance

While the cultural and operational strategies of the All Blacks are deeply integrated into the fabric of New Zealand rugby, they provide universal lessons on building and sustaining high performance teams. The key is not merely in adopting specific tactics but in cultivating an environment that promotes continuous improvement, unity, and resilience.

Key Insights for Leaders:

  • Building a high performance team requires more than skills; it requires cultivating a shared culture and identity that can inspire and unify team members.
  • Flexibility in strategies and adaptability in execution are critical to staying competitive and relevant.
  • Continuous improvement and learning are essential for sustaining high performance and should be integral to the team’s operation.

The All Blacks’ method, though deeply rooted in the specific context of rugby and New Zealand culture, offers great insights for leaders in any field aiming to build high performance teams.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Companies Are Not Families

Companies Are Not Families

GUEST POST from David Burkus

It’s unclear where the metaphor got started. In fact, it probably didn’t start as a metaphor (“we are a family”); it probably started as a simile (“we are like a family”). Some well-meaning executive somewhere described the company culture as feeling like a family. (That a high-powered CEO would feel like the paternalistic chief of anything is a dilemma for a different article).

Over time, more and more corporate leaders started using “like family” until logically one decided to take it to the next level and skip the “like” altogether boasting “we’re a family.”

But a company is not a family.

And further a company shouldn’t be a family.

When companies began to overuse the family analogy, results are rarely positive. Instead, pushing for family levels of commitment can actually do damage to the culture. And in this article, we’ll outline the ways that the “family” metaphor can lead to dysfunction. As well as the steps team leaders can take to transform their dysfunctional fake families back into the thriving work teams they were trying to build in the first place.


[Watch the Video Above or Keep Scrolling to Read]

What Happens When We’re “Family”

Misusing the “family” metaphor at work can lead to several ways employees get abused. Three in particular stand out.

1. Work/Life Boundaries Get Blurred

Many of the organizations that emphasize the family feel end up taking actions that blur the lines between work and life for most employees. This was seen much more often before the pandemic, when companies flouted free food, dry cleaning, endless parties, and all sorts of amenities designed to make life as easy as possible—as long as you never left work. But that became a problem unto itself. Employees never left work, opting to spend more and more time with their “work family” but never getting the downtime needed to be sustainably productive.

Committed Employees Get Taken Advantage Of

When companies or even team leaders overemphasize the family metaphor, the next logical step is asking for family-level committed from employees. This creates a lot of opportunities for leaders to take advantage of employees. One project after another gets taken on, without considering existing commitments and making it difficult for employees to say no. Beyond overload, over-committed employees can also be asked to commit more and more unethical actions. When the survival of the company—sorry, the family—is a stake, employees can feel pressured to use any means necessary. See Theranos or WeWork for two recent examples.

3. Departing Employees Get Labeled as Betrayers

If those employees decide the don’t like blurry boundaries (around work and life or around ethics) and choose to move on—that creates a whole new issue. In organizations that overemphasize family, it becomes easy to label to departures as a form of betrayal. It’s not uncommon for companies to cut off all communication with former employees and instruct their people to do the same. Beyond being just plain wrong, this mindset can actually limit a company—since research shows former colleagues that stay connected become potent sources new knowledge for each other and their new employers.

What’s Wrong With Team?

The intent behind labeling a company as a family might have been noble. We want a strong culture or people bonded to each other and pushing each other to new levels of performance. But if that’s what we want, what’s wrong with just calling that a team? Strong teams deliver exactly that. And whether you’re in a company that’s abusing the family metaphor or not, here’s a few actions you can take to build a stronger team.

1. Redefine Purpose

One of the reasons for choosing the family metaphor was a poorly executed attempt at bonding teams and organizations together. But just saying you’re a family doesn’t build bonds. Instead, research suggests that one of the most potent ways to bond a team is by pointing to super-ordinate goals—goals so big they require collaboration. And for organizations, the super-ordinate goal is most often the stated purpose or mission. But even here, there’s work to be done. Most organizations write lofty mission statements that are difficult for employees to connect with. It falls on team leaders to translate that lofty purpose into one that bonds and motivates. And the best way to do that is to redefine it from a big and bold “why” (why do we do what we do?) to a specific “who” (who is helped by the work that we do).

2. Encourage Boundaries

Despite what it may seem like at first, committed employees isn’t always a positive. The line between committed and over-committed people is incredibly thin. Many managers think they want people who will work until the project is done—arriving early and staying late if need be. But the truth is that in a modern economy, work is never done. So, the only way to stay sustainably productive is to make sure every employee enjoys down time as well. More and more companies are experimenting with ways to encourage boundaries such as forbidding after hours email, moving to four-day workweeks, and even paying people to take their vacation time. And results all suggest the same thing: time away from work makes work better.

3. Celebrate Departures

No matter how committed employees are some of them will move on. New opportunities present themselves. Life changes happen. And so do plenty of other reasons for an employee to look elsewhere. In the face of this inevitability, treating departures like betrayals never made sense. Instead, departures ought to be celebrated. Employees who leave on good terms ought to be seen as alumni representing the organization even in their new endeavors. In addition to information, departing employees become a powerful new source of referrals for new hires too. There is no better recruiter than a satisfied former employee now working in a new company talking with their potentially dissatisfied new colleagues. In addition, treating employees well as they’re departing has a motivating effect on the employees who stay, as they watch how positively their former colleagues were treated and trust that they’ll be treated the same one day too.

Calling your company a family, may have been a well-meaning metaphor, but it hasn’t been a very useful one. Most employees don’t want a dysfunctional family. They want a team that’s bonded through purpose and built on trust and respect. They don’t want to be seen as family one day and divorced family the next. They want to know their contribution was valuable even after they leave. They don’t want leaders who over-commit and abuse them.

They want leaders who help them do their best work ever.

Image credit: David Burkus

Originally published on LinkedIn on December 9, 2021

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5 Secrets to Building Smarter Teams

5 Secrets to Building Smarter Teams

GUEST POST from David Burkus

One of the most fascinating concepts in the study of teamwork and collaboration is the concept of collective intelligence—the idea that when teams collaborate exceptionally well, they tap into a reservoir of knowledge and abilities that exceed the sum of each individual’s capability. Research led by Anita Williams Wooley helped solidified this theory with evidence that some teams truly did perform better than merely the average of the individual team member’s abilities.

Perhaps more surprisingly, teams who managed to achieve collective intelligence did so on a variety of tasks—even tasks for which some teams had individual members whose knowledge and abilities were uniquely suited. In other words, talent didn’t make the team. The team made the talent.

But taking a team from individually talented to collectively intelligent can be tricky. In this article, we’ll outline what makes a team smarter through five evidence-based actions.

1. Leverage Diversity

The first action that makes a team smarter is to leverage diversity. It’s undeniable at this point that diverse teams perform better than homogenous ones. However, many teams and organizations achieve a level of diversity but fail to experience the benefits. Simply put they’re not leveraging diversity. The reason is that diversity in its commonly used definition (racial, ethnic, gender, etc.) is intended to lead to an intellectual diversity on the team. But often it doesn’t. New members join the team and increase the surface level diversity but either don’t bring different perspectives or don’t feel safe and included enough to express their different perspectives. Great teams leverage diversity by creating the psychological safety that allows those differing ideas and opinions. And in doing so make the whole team smarter.

2. Build Empathy

The second action that makes a team smarter is to build empathy. And when seeking to leverage diversity, building empathy isn’t a suggested action but a requirement. Building empathy on work teams doesn’t mean the same as empathy in personal relationships—teams don’t have to get to the level of empathy where they feel each other’s pain. But they do need to understand the different perspectives, preferences, and contexts of their teammates. And more importantly, they have to recognize the validity of those perspectives and preferences even if they disagree. This type of empathy is built through exercises that draw out those differences—it could be personality testing and group discussion, but it could also be in holding team charter meetings or sharing “manuals of me.” These exercises not only draw out differences, but they create a set of team norms that help the team perform and make the whole team smarter.

3. Take Turns Sharing

The third action that makes a team smarter is to take turns sharing. While teams are building those norms, enforcing conversational turn taking will likely be one of the most effective ones. That’s because Wooley’s research suggests turn taking in conversation is one of the strongest correlated actions to the experience of collective intelligence. But most teams don’t do this. Instead, they defer to the “hippo” (highest paid person’s opinion), or they allow a few over-talkers to dominate every meeting. High-performing, collectively intelligent teams do the opposite. They have rules and rhythms in place to ensure that everyone on the team is given an equal chance to share their input. And their leaders don’t make decisions without knowing they’ve heard from everyone. Doing so makes the leader’s decision better because it makes the whole team smarter.

4. Listen Actively

The fourth action that makes a team smarter is to listen actively. It’s great to take turns and make sure everyone has a chance to speak, but unless they’re truly heard the team doesn’t get any smarter. And unless they feel truly heard, they likely won’t feel comfortable sharing much longer. That means making sure each member of the team is committed to actively listening and responding with respect when others share. On teams, leaders model the way on active listening. When leaders make consistent eye contact and use nonverbals to demonstrate connection, they train others on the team to do so. And when leaders resist the urge to jump in and share immediately, and instead ask follow-up questions that draw more information out, their behavior often gets copied on the team. That helps everyone feel their perspective is valued and makes the whole team smarter.

5. Equalize Status

The fifth action that makes a team smarter is to equalize status. As we’ve discussed above, often what shuts down a conversation and keeps a team from being collectively intelligent is defaulting to the highest status person in the room—whether it’s the leader or an over-talker. That person speaking too early or too forcefully in the conversation sets a tone that everyone else is responding too and can often trigger self-censoring behaviors in teammates. That’s why high-performing, collectively intelligent teams create methods to equalize status and reinforce the idea that—as long as we’re in discussion—all ideas are of equal value. Some teams even use symbols or gestures (like removing titles or status markers) to reinforce equality. When teams create a feeling of equal status on a team, the discussion gets better and the whole team gets smarter.

And as a team leader, the actions taken to equalize status are likely the best place to start. Equal teams are better able to leverage diversity and build empathy. Equal teams are more likely to take turns sharing and demonstrate active listening. Focusing on equalizing status first makes it more likely the team is able to tap into collective knowledge—to truly be smarter. And when teams get smarter they make it more likely everyone on the team can do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pexels

Originally published at https://davidburkus.com on May 30, 2023

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5 Simple Steps to Team Alignment

5 Simple Steps to Team Alignment

GUEST POST from David Burkus

So much of the struggle of working on teams comes down to one key task: getting a team aligned. Aligned teams lead to better engagement, performance, and retention. Getting and keeping a team aligned is a key task for leaders at all levels. But recognizing the importance of alignment is a lot easier than actually getting everyone on the same page.

Team alignment means everyone contributes toward a shared goal, understands their assigned tasks, and sees how their work fits into the team’s work. But teams are composed of people and people bring their own individual goals, desired tasks, and sense of contribution that may or may not fit well with others.

In this article, we will explore how to get a team aligned across five steps of creating, and then keeping alignment.

Step 1: Start from Purpose

The first step in how to get a team aligned is starting from purpose. Before setting a plan of action, goals, and key performance indicators, teams need to focus on the reason they’re working on that project. This begins with the organizational mission, as it sets the tone for the team’s purpose and helps everyone understand the bigger picture. Once the mission is defined, it can be translated into a team-wide purpose—a clearly defined statement of why that team’s work is important and how it fits into the organizational mission.

Starting from purpose is key to keeping the team motivated and providing them with task significance that helps them stay focused when the day-to-day tasks get tedious or strenuous. But starting from purpose also helps teams deal with change. Changes are going to happen to the team—internal and external changes are going to force the team to pivot. But if everyone on the team has a clear picture of the team-wide purpose, then they can pivot quickly and still trust they’re making progress on their purpose.

Step 2: Establish Priorities

The second step in how to get a team aligned is establishing priorities. Once the end goal is defined, the team can turn its attention to getting there. Any project carries with it dozens of tasks and subtasks that have to be arranged in a specific order—and that bring with them a certain level of importance. That’s what establishing priorities is all about. Once the tasks are identified, they should be ranked in order of importance. This ranking should be communicated to the team, so everyone understands what tasks are most important and what they should be working on.

Just like starting from purpose, establishing priorities helps keep the team focused and updated on changes. When those inevitable changes happen, they may or may not affect the ranking of priorities. So, in the face of changes, leaders need to be clear on what tasks stay critical, what new tasks are important, and what tasks were lowered. In this way, keeping priorities clear is vital to keeping a team aligned.

Step 3: Set Team Goals

The third step in how to get a team aligned is setting team goals. With purpose in focus and priorities set, it’s time to map out how the team will act on their plan. Some teams use complex metrics like KPIs and OKRs. But if you don’t know what either acronym stands for that’s okay. Fundamentally, setting team goals involves working backwards from completion and creating milestones that will be used to monitor progress, provide feedback, and create moments of celebration.

Whatever system is used, leaders need to ensure people know what the most important goals are, as well as how they’re being measured. And leaders need to ensure people know what is expected of them and by when, and how it fits into the series of cascading goals. This makes holding teammates accountable for performance easier—but it also makes it easier for everyone to celebrate their own wins and the wins of their teammates.

Step 4: Hold Regular Huddles

The fourth step in how to get a team aligned is holding regular huddles. Huddles are the quick meetings team members have on a regular basis to “work out loud” and keep everyone updated on progress and potential roadblocks. It helps keep everyone on the same page and ensures that everyone is aware of what is happening. How often these huddles happen depends on the team and the project.

Regardless of frequency, one easy format for leaders to adopt in their huddles centers around three questions: what did I just complete?, what am I focused on next?, and what is blocking my progress? When each person on the team provides an answer to each question, then everyone on the team gets a status update, gets to know how their work fits into the work of others, and gets to ask for and offer help across the team.

Step 5: Check-in Often

The final step in how to get a team aligned is checking in often—and this happens on the individual level from leaders to individual teammates. Check-ins help leaders keep tabs on progress, give coaching, and align individual goals with team and organizational goals. And Check-Ins keep team members motivated and ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals.

In addition to team-wide huddles, regular one-on-one meetings should be held with team members to discuss progress, challenges, and individual goals. Leaders should encourage transparency and honesty during these meetings. This helps them understand what is happening and how they can help. This is also a great time to have more forward-looking conversations about the individual’s career goals and ambitions and how the current projects can help serve as development opportunities for them. The information gathered during Check-In meetings can be used to get team members more meaningful work and keep them motivated.

Team alignment is crucial for the success of any team. By starting from purpose, establishing priorities, setting team goals, holding regular huddles, and checking in often at the individual level, leaders can keep their team aligned and performing at their best. An aligned team is a team that helps everyone do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pixabay

Originally published at https://davidburkus.com on June 19, 2023

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Four Ways to Build Inclusive Teams

Four Ways to Build Inclusive Teams

GUEST POST from David Burkus

At the core of teamwork is the need to solve problems. And when generating solutions, the more diverse a team you have, the more ideas you can generate. Sort of. The rationale behind diversity being a strength on teams is solid. When you’ve built a team of various perspectives, experiences, skills, and abilities, each person brings that variety into discussions and more diverse ideas get generated. More ideas mean a better chance of finding the perfect solution.

But that’s not always what happens.

It turns out that diversity alone is not enough to turn a team of very different individuals into a very effective one. In fact, research suggests diversity alone on a team can actually diminish performance. It’s diversity, paired with a feeling of that diversity being valued that matters. In other words, its diversity plus inclusion.

In this, article, we’ll outline four ways to build inclusive teams to turn diversity into the strength we know it can be.

1. Share Information

The first way to build inclusive teams is to share information. There is no easier way to make people feel excluded than to give them the impression that others on the team or in the organization are getting access to more information and opportunities than they are. Saying that a certain bit of intel is on a “need to know” basis immediately makes people question why they “don’t need to know.” But the opposite is also true, when people receive what they perceive to be privileged intel, they feel like they matter and that they’re included.

For leaders, this means the goal should be to share information as liberally as possible. It means the default reaction to receiving new information should be to share it with your team. Obviously, there will always be information you receive and aren’t permitted to share. But unless it’s expressly stated that something is off limits, seek to share it on your team. Likewise, encourage others to share, and even over-share, information they receive. This not only helps the team feel more inclusive, but it also helps everyone make better decisions as well.

2. Build Trust

The second way to build inclusive teams is to build trust. Without trust, a team isn’t really a team. It’s just a bunch of strangers who work alongside each other. And without trust, there’s no way to foster inclusivity because there’s no one willing to be vulnerable, share differing opinions, or admit mistakes. Inclusive teams bring out the best ideas because people feel that they can be themselves—and that requires some level of prior trust built up before the act of expression.

For leaders, building trust often requires you to go first in being vulnerable. When you’re willing to admit mistakes (or even just that you don’t know) and when you share unknown qualities about you, the people on your team recognize that you are trusting them with that information. And some of them will respond in kind—and then when they’re vulnerable, others will respond in kind as well. Eventually, through this cycle of vulnerability and acceptance—you’ll take the trust on your team to a whole new level.

3. Train Respect

The third way to build inclusive teams is to train respect. It’s not enough just to be vulnerable and step out in trust. That act of vulnerability needs to be met with acceptance. In other words, people need to feel their trusting moment was respect. They need to feel that their opinions are respected, that their ideas aren’t quickly judged, and that their self-expressions aren’t being ridiculed. Some on the team may unconsciously signal respect already, but some may unconsciously signal disrespect, judgment or worse. Many times, people don’t know the response they make is perceive as disrespectful to the person who was vulnerable.

For leaders, this means modeling the way by demonstrating what respectful responses look like. Research suggests the number one reason for incivility in the workplace is leaders NOT being enough of a positive role model to train others. When teammates are sharing opinions—model active listening. When people share differing ideas—ask them questions inside of making judgements. Recognize when someone is stepping out in trust and meet that trust with respect in a way that all can see. Because when they can see you respecting others, they learn how to respond themselves.

4. Create Safety

The fourth way to build inclusive teams is to create safety. Safety here doesn’t refer to creating a “safe space.” There are no safe spaces—only safe people. Safety refers to psychological safety—a climate where team members feel safe to express themselves and take risks. (You could almost say that inclusion and psychological safety are synonymous—almost.) And while trust and respect make up a lot of psychological safety—how teams and individuals respond to setbacks, mistakes, and failures is a third crucial element. For people to feel accepted and included, they must know that you include their occasional failures and mistakes. And more importantly, creating psychological safety helps teams adopt a growth mindset and share in lessons from those mistakes as well.

For leaders, responding to failures happens in two different ways. The first is how you admit mistakes to your team. Do you seek to blame someone on the team, organization, or environment? Or do you take ownership and also share what you learned? The second is how you respond to mistakes on your team. Do you ask questions to find the learning moments, or do you focus solely on how the team can “make up for it”? Creating safety requires re-framing failure as a learning moment—your failures and also the team’s failures.

Speaking of failures, there will be some failures along the way toward building a more inclusive team. It’s going to take time. But as these four methods become habits, the team will rise in trust and respect and so will the feeling of inclusion. And when they’re feeling included, the whole team will be able to do their best work ever.

Image credit: Unsplash

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Building a Psychologically Safe Team

Building a Psychologically Safe Team

GUEST POST from David Burkus

One of the most consistent findings in organizational behavior over the last decade has been just how significantly team performance is affected by psychological safety. A psychologically safe team is one where team members feel comfortable being themselves, expressing their ideas and opinions, and taking risks without fear of being punished or ostracized. Teams with high psychological safety learn faster, communicate better, and hence collaborate more effectively.

At its core, psychological safety is marked by a sense of mutual trust and respect. And these are two different things. Trust is how much teammates feel they can share their authentic selves with others. Respect is how much teammates feel the team will accept that self. If I trust you, then I will share honestly with you. If you respect me, then you will value what I’ve shared.

In this article, we’ll cover four ways to create a more psychologically safe team—with the first two focusing on trust and the second two on respect.

Be Vulnerable First

The first way to build a psychologically safe team is to be vulnerable first. This is a powerful way to build trust because trust on a team grows reciprocally. When someone makes themselves vulnerable, they signal to the team that they’re trusting the team. And teammates feel trusted and respond in a trustworthy manner (most of the time). This cycle repeats itself over time and trust grows alongside it. As a leader, that means it falls upon you to demonstrate trust first by being vulnerable first. You don’t need to share embarrassing secrets or your deepest fears, but a simple “I don’t know” when discussing a problem or a simple sharing of a few weaknesses can be an important moment in the development of trust on your team. Don’t make people earn your trust. Trust them and let them respond with trustworthiness.

Accept (but learn from) Failures

The second way to build a psychologically safe team is to accept (but learn from) the team’s failures. Failures on a team can’t be avoided—and they can’t be ignored. You’ll have to deal with repeated failures or performance issues, but often unexpected failures get overlooked (or worse). Projects sometimes run over budget, clients change their mind, global pandemics threaten the supply chain and force everyone to work at home in their pajamas. When failures happen, the human reaction is to deflect or excuse away failures. So, when teams face failures, they often fight over who is to blame. But psychologically safe teams recognize failure is a learning opportunity and see honest conversations about what happened and what can be changed in the future to prevent failures. As a leader, take your team through an after-action review when failures happen and celebrate any moments of honesty or responsibility you see. Doing so sends the message that failure is feedback—not something to be deflected.

Model Active Listening

The third way to build a psychologically safe team is to model active listening. This helps teammates feel respected, the other side of psychological safety. Leaders don’t have to accept every idea their team shares to build respect, but they do have to ensue every teammate feels listened to. And modelling active listening not only ensures you’re listening to the team—it also teaches the team by example how to listen better to each other. Make sure you’re actively focused on the person speaking, not looking at a phone or laptop. Nod your head and utter small “hmms” and “ahhs” to show you’re responding and processing what you hear. Follow up with questions based on what you heard that signal listening and encourage them to expound on their ideas. And before you offer your thoughts, summarize what you heard them say to confirm that you understand. Doing so will ensure the other person feels listened to—because you were actually listening.

Treat Conflict As Collaboration

The fourth way to build a psychologically safe team is to treat conflict as collaboration. It’s difficult to model active listening when the person speaking is sharing an idea or action in conflict with something you’ve previously said. It’s hard to actively listen when in conflict because you’re wanting to jump in and defend your original idea. But for building respect, it’s crucial to remember that task-focused conflict is a form of collaboration. People who disagree with their teammates aren’t (usually) saying their teammates are dumb, they’re saying they see the situation differently and care enough to share. Resist the urge to shoot down the conflicting idea, and use the questioning time during active listening to ask questions about the assumptions made or information that leads this person to a different conclusion. Meet conflict with curiosity about how they concluded something different than you. You’ll not only maintain respect, you’ll often find out that their way is a better solution anyway.

Looking at these actions collectively, it’s easier to notice the interplay between trust and respect that leads to a psychologically safe team. Trusting moments need to be met with respect, otherwise they might trigger distrust. But when teams develop both simultaneously, they start to share diverse perspectives and generate better ideas—and they gradually become a team where everyone can do their best work ever.

Image credit: Pixabay

Originally published at https://davidburkus.com on February 25, 2023.

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Top 10 Human-Centered Change & Innovation Articles of July 2023

Top 10 Human-Centered Change & Innovation Articles of July 2023Drum roll please…

At the beginning of each month, we will profile the ten articles from the previous month that generated the most traffic to Human-Centered Change & Innovation. Did your favorite make the cut?

But enough delay, here are July’s ten most popular innovation posts:

  1. 95% of Work is Noise — by Mike Shipulski
  2. Four Characteristics of High Performing Teams — by David Burkus
  3. 39 Digital Transformation Hacks — by Stefan Lindegaard
  4. How to Create Personas That Matter — by Braden Kelley
  5. The Real Problem with Problems — by Mike Shipulski
  6. A Triumph of Artificial Intelligence Rhetoric — by Geoffrey A. Moore
  7. Ideas Have Limited Value — by Greg Satell
  8. Three Cognitive Biases That Can Kill Innovation — by Greg Satell
  9. Navigating the AI Revolution — by Teresa Spangler
  10. How to Make Navigating Ambiguity a Super Power — by Robyn Bolton

BONUS – Here are five more strong articles published in June that continue to resonate with people:

If you’re not familiar with Human-Centered Change & Innovation, we publish 4-7 new articles every week built around innovation and transformation insights from our roster of contributing authors and ad hoc submissions from community members. Get the articles right in your Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin feeds too!

Have something to contribute?

Human-Centered Change & Innovation is open to contributions from any and all innovation and transformation professionals out there (practitioners, professors, researchers, consultants, authors, etc.) who have valuable human-centered change and innovation insights to share with everyone for the greater good. If you’d like to contribute, please contact me.

P.S. Here are our Top 40 Innovation Bloggers lists from the last three years:

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Four Characteristics of High Performing Teams

Four Characteristics of High Performing Teams

GUEST POST from David Burkus

What makes some teams more successful than others?

What leads teams to consistently deliver great performance while other teams fail to live up to expectations?

Why do some groups of talented and seemingly compatible people fall short against lesser teams with less suitable members?

Years ago, a team of researchers and organizational development professionals at Google sought to answer those questions in a research study they labelled “Project Aristotle.” And in collecting data, Google and the team looked at a variety of different factors around teams.

They looked at the levels of introversion and extroversion on the team.

They looked at the academic backgrounds and of course the work history.

They looked at workload size and how much work they were asking them to do.

They looked at whether new teams, or senior teams, or sort of mix of seniority performed better. They looked at just about every aspect of what makes up a team to try to figure out what could explain how the best teams worked.

But it turned out the answers weren’t any of that. It turned out it wasn’t about how a team was composed and who was on it. It was about how they behaved. It was about the norms, behavior, and culture when the team was working together that really made the difference as to whether or not the team succeeded or failed. And that study kicked off a wave of research on what behaviors and norms high performing teams exhibited.

And in this article, we’ll summarize that research by presenting the top four characteristics of high-performing teams.

1. Defined Roles And Responsibilities

The first characteristic of high performing teams is that they have defined roles and responsibilities. Everyone on the team knows what is expected of them, and everyone knows what to expect from everyone else. This level of clarity provides the team with a couple advantages. If everyone knows what’s expected of them, then they’re more likely to turn those expectations into reality. But the real advantage develops when this role clarity is done on a constant basis. When teams are checking-in regularly and updating each other on their progress—and making appropriate changes as needed—it keeps projects from falling apart. One of the biggest project derailers is when one individual on the team needs to make a pivot in their work but fails to update the team. In those situations, when the team finally comes together to merge their individual responsibilities into the team-wide deliverable the pieces don’t fit together. Defining roles and responsibilities, and continuing to update them, prevents this error and keeps projects on track more often.

2. Know Strengths And Weaknesses

The second characteristic of high performing teams is that they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. If clear roles and responsibilities is the “hard stuff” of keeping a team at optimal performance, then knowing strengths and weaknesses is the “soft stuff” that’s equally important. Because in order to properly assign roles and responsibilities, teams have to know who would perform best in each role. High performing teams are typically composed of members with diverse backgrounds, trainings, and strengths and weaknesses, and they work in such a way that some members’ strengths offset other members’ weaknesses. In addition, this level of shared understanding about each other makes it easier for team members to provide feedback and step in and help. They’re more aware of when the demands of a task might veer outside of a specific teammate’s expertise, and so they know when to step in and assist. In addition, if one teammate decides they need help, then they know who else on the team is their best source of aid.

3. Trust And Respect

The third characteristic of high performing teams is that they trust and respect each other. In other words, there is a high degree of psychological safety on the team. This means that teammates feel safe to express themselves and to take risks. They feel safe to speak up when they disagree and safe to provide feedback. They even feel safe to fail because they trust the team will still respect them and draw lessons from that failure. And in the end that constant learning is what makes them high performing. Real candor on a team only happens when the teammates trust their voice will be considered and respect the voices of others on the team. That level of candor means a team is free to explore more possibilities when solving problems and makes it more likely they’ll find innovate new ways of accomplishing their objectives. In addition, the trust and respect of psychological safety means teammates are more engaged in their work and more committed to the team, which makes it less likely their performance will slow down any time soon.

4. Know The Mission

The final characteristic of high performing teams is that they know how their work fits the mission. High performing teams know how the work they are assigned fits into the bigger picture of what the organization is trying to accomplish and the impact that it will make when achieved. Sometimes, this level of task significance is about the outside stakeholders in the organization and how they’re served by the work the company does. Other times, it’s about the internal colleagues and other teams who are served by the teams’ work. But every time, it’s less about some grandiose mission statement and more about being able to see a clear and causal connection between the day-to-day work and a specific person or group who is served by that work. Without that connection, it’s easy to get lost, bored, and stagnant as a team. But with a clear and compelling “who” at the center of their work, it’s easy to be focused, inspired, and high performing.

When looking at all four characteristics, it’s surprising to note what’s not on the list.

Talent isn’t on the list. Talented individuals joining a team may help, but only if the team maintains these norms of behavior. Talented people who don’t coordinate their work with others are detractors, not performers.

Diversity isn’t on the list. Diversity is hugely important to a team’s success but diversity without trust and respect often leads to dysfunction.

In fact, it’s not about the elements or traits of any individuals. It’s about their habits. It’s about their norms and behaviors and whether or not the culture of the team contains these characteristics—characteristics that help everyone (regardless of skill or past performance) do their best work ever.

Image credit: Unsplash

Originally published at https://davidburkus.com on December 14, 2021.

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