In our previous article we introduced the idea of a team flywheel that captures the energy and capacities needed for team performance. Just as a flywheel takes energy and time to build momentum and start spinning, a team needs to nurture and develop three capacities for it to spin and release its true potential: Discover, Distil and Do. Here we’re diving into Discover by integrating our experience of developing teams with organisational research into team performance.
The essence of Discover is developing awareness. Team level self-awareness is a mirror of individual self-awareness, it’s seeing with clarity how we are, where we are, where we’re heading and holding that collectively.
We've known for a long time that self-awareness is a bedrock of effectiveness (for example from the research into emotional intelligence) and it has a long history reaching back to Freud who saw self-analysis as the path to health and growth. Self-awareness can unearth insight into what’s driving our behaviours, the impact we're having on others and help us to make better choices about what we could flex or change. Sounds easy – yet so much can get in the way! Maybe it's too painful to look honestly at ourselves and see the bits we don't like. Maybe we don't invest time in reflection or are too fearful to ask for feedback. Maybe we develop habits that act as an ‘immunity to change’ and we don’t know how to stop them. Whatever it is, the price of this avoidance is an inaccurate sense of ourselves.
Understandably, when the pressure’s on to do more with less, when online calls focus people on the task, when hybrid working makes it difficult getting everyone in the room, teams can struggle to find the space and time to talk about these wider levers of performance - how they work together, the culture they create, how they are feeling is rarely on the agenda. As a result barriers to performance can remain unsurfaced and misunderstood.
Space to talk to ourselves about ourselves
Simply creating a space (real or virtual) for people to come together and have open conversations in a safe environment is an important part of our work. We model and invite others to have meaningful and curious conversations that increase awareness. There is almost always some discomfort at first as people step back from the habit and pressure of being busy, and then they start to discover new things about each other: someone discovers a colleague suffers from anxiety literally every day; someone discovers they're not alone in suffering with imposter syndrome. As the personal stories flow, the connections in-between start to grow, the roots of trust start to deepen.
Slow down to speed up
There's such a bias for action in organisations, yet to truly discover as a team where we are, we need to slow down. Neuroscience shows that when we allow our brain to pause for a split second, it gives it the opportunity to connect across both hemispheres to actually make sense of the information it's absorbing, identify patterns and gain insights. To simply slow down, discover, invest the time in it, means we can then speed up more effectively from a much stronger base.
As adults develop through the lifespan they can deepen their self-awareness, the complexity of their understanding of their relationships and context. Central to this is the capacity to take greater perspective: whether that's first-person perspective about ourselves, second-person perspective in understanding others in the team, or third-person perspective to see how our team is perceived and experienced by other teams and across the organisation. Encouraged by the prize of diverse teams outperforming non diverse teams, there’s a growing need for us to see, appreciate and integrate the variety of perspectives within our teams. Unfair stereotypes and biases can be minimised through the process of getting to know a person - once we discover more about the whole of a person, we find a connection that invites us to question our previously held assumptions.
Vulnerability as a strength
The final capacity we see helping teams to talk to themselves about themselves, is embracing vulnerability. The temptation can be to take the easy path, when embracing the discomfort of more tender, sensitive and direct conversations is where personal growth and leadership lies. Instead we see teams getting stuck, skating over the real conversation that needs to be had, and the opportunity for deeper shared awareness slips away.
The most developed teams allow unrestricted flow of data between team members, whether about the task, context or thoughts, ideas and feelings; there’s transparency, vulnerability and a safety in being so utterly open. As we move into increasingly complex and uncertain times, it’s vital that teams are self-aware, each other-aware and context-aware, not only to sense and adapt to the continuous flow of change but to create and pursue a new direction in a world of unlimited possibilities.