The New York Times recently published an article about an extensive study by Google in the quest to determine what makes a perfect team. They investigated almost 200 teams and tried to analyze the characteristics of a great team, such as personalities of the members, diversity of individual characteristics, types of mangers, etc. After looking at all the data they concluded only two consistent characteristics distinguish well performing from dysfunctional teams: team norms which support the team in their collaboration, and psychological safety, meaning members feel safe enough to express themselves and feel heard.
Some may wonder why Google spent so much time and money finding out the obvious – be nice to each other. However, we find these data driven conclusions to be very helpful because many teams are not succeeding just for this reason. They do not have norms and standards of behavior which create a space where everyone feels they can contribute, feels they are heard, and cares about each other as people. When we work with dysfunctional teams, setting norms of supportive behavior is one of the key focus areas.
Explicitly agreeing team norms is even more important in a global virtual team where distance and cultural differences often lead to mistrust and misunderstandings. When team managers take the time to facilitate a discussion about how the team works together, makes decisions, shares ideas and documents, informs other stakeholders, conducts meetings, brainstorms, etc., the various assumptions and approaches become explicit. Before these discussions, team members are in the dark, not sure how to engage with their colleagues and frustrated by the lack of progress and numerous misunderstandings. During the facilitated discussions, an observer can see all the ‘aha moments’ and mutual understanding and respect for each other grow. This is also when the psychological safety begins to form and team members become more open with each other.
Working on team norms is one aspect of team facilitation and coaching. To find out more, please contact Theresa Sigillito Hollema at firstname.lastname@example.org