Building, leading, and sustaining teams that perform at a high level is both an art and a science… just like parenting.
Imagine you’re the parent of three young children, all between the ages of 5 and 10. You have 1 boy and 2 girls and, because you are a glutton for punishment, you decide that all three should sit together in the back seat during your upcoming road trip.
If you’re a parent, you’re breaking out in hives just thinking about it.
Now imagine that on your road trip, you pose a challenge to your kids. You tell them, “I bet you the three of you can’t come up with a recipe for dinner, along with a grocery list, before we get to our destination.” An hour goes by and nothing happens. But, your oldest daughter, who has been sitting in her seat waiting to burst into her natural leadership position, finally starts to plan. She pulls the other two siblings into a conversation about their favorite foods and what they might want to eat for dinner.
After each idea from her siblings, she nods and energetically and writes them down. Your youngest participates – his favorite fruit is watermelon. At times, one child talks and the others listen, a pattern that goes on for a while. Then there are times when they ask you for feedback and then go back and put your advice into action. For inspiration, your children call their dad, a conversation that always ends with some good quality potty-humor.
In 30 minutes, your kids have written a recipe (keep in mind that you never said you were going to use it) and a grocery list to go along with it.
You officially have a high performing team of soon-to-be adolescents on your hands!
The key to your success? As much as it can be attributed to the artform of parenting, the key is the science of creating an environment that encourages safety. Look back at the story and you’ll notice eye-contact, a balance of listening and talking, bringing outside conversations back into the team, and a willingness to go outside for advice. All of these are aspects of a high-performing team.
Here is the science behind building high-performing teams. We think you’ll find that it’s not groundbreaking information, however, in part 3, we’ll talk about the art side of things.
High-performing teams are those where team members feel psychologically safe. What does that mean? It means that team members trust the people they work with not to ridicule them for sharing ideas. It means that they feel free to provide input, knowing that they are respected by the other people in the room.
If you’re like most people, this whole concept, which can be the most important component of building a high-performing team, can sound more like an art than something definable. MIT researchers, however, in their study of hundreds of different teams discovered identifiable qualities of a team in which its members feel safe to share their ideas:
- Each team member balances talking with listening.
- Team members make eye contact with each other and talk energetically with each other.
- Team members connect with each other and not just the leader.
- Water-cooler or hallway conversations carry over into the team meetings.
- Team members research ideas outside of the boundaries of the team and bring back the best ideas.
If you’re in the trenches right now, we know that it can feel overwhelming to read these five elements of a high-performing team and wonder how you’re going to implement them. Fortunately, as much as it’s an art, there’s a science to creating a psychologically safe and, in turn, a successful team. Here are three research-based keys to creating the team that you ultimately desire:
- Keep relational connection at the forefront of your brain. When a team is led by someone who seeks connection with his or her team members, profits and employee satisfaction go up.
- Encourage vulnerability. Vulnerability promotes trust and trust is an indicator of safety. Patrick Lencioni, in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, suggests a personal history exercise in which each team member shares the most challenging part about being a kid.
- Validate emotions. The most effective way to increase psychological safety, in every relationship in life, is to validate the emotions of the other person. The emotional well-being of each team member increases when they are validated in their own emotions.
The gist of creating a psychologically safe environment is to focus on your relationships with each individual team member and the way (1) you are communicating, and (2) team members are communicating with one another.
There’s one more research-based component of a high-performing team: the Rockstar. When researchers from MIT studied the communication patterns of hundreds of different teams, they discovered that the key to success was the existence of a team member who worked the room. This person didn’t work the room for personal gain, or to exchange business cards. Instead, they naturally walked around, on a regular basis, having energetic and engaging conversation with people and connecting team members to each other. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But the more rock stars (or “connectors”) a team has is related to how successful it becomes.
The bread and butter of your team is your ability to hire, develop, and release rock stars to… well… to rock.
You’ve now read about the science. In part 3 of The Art and Science of Building a High Performing Team, we’ll talk about the art of team-building: leading from your strengths and helping other people do the same.