Most organisations strive to produce high performing teams; groups of goal orientated individuals with focused expertise and complementary skills who collaborate, innovate and produce consistently superior results. Pursuing performance through shared leadership, open communication and clear role expectations.
Creating a high-performing team is challenging enough, when said teams are then forced to work from home outside their normal environment, how do you promote and maintain a sense of teamwork when your team is so dispersed?
There have been many articles published about the human aspect of remote teams, focusing on schedules, tools and duties – however, less discussed are the intangible traits, such as psychological safety. Trust, shared knowledge and motivation are especially critical for separated employees.
When employees feel comfortable discussing potentially controversial issues, it means they feel safe in the ‘environment’ that has been created – whether that be physical or virtual. Feeling comfortable to speak up is not easy, so you must deliberately foster a climate in which people can speak freely, without fear or judgement.
Building trust through various interactions is a slow process, you can’t just announce that an organisation and associated employees are psychologically safe. Everyone in the team must contribute and encourage others to fully participate.
A dispersed team can be unproductive and exhibit high turnover, if leaders do not actively manage the human factors affecting a remote unit. Now more than ever, managers need to find innovative ways to apply organisational behavioural methods to their remote workforce and build trust within their teams.
A few years ago, Google researchers set out on a quest to ascertain the secrets behind their effective teams, code-named Project Aristotle – a tribute to Aristotle’s quote, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Like most organisations, they wanted to know the holy grail of answers… What makes a team effective?
After reviewing the characteristics of their top performing teams, seemingly no parallels could be drawn between their employee’s education, experience, personalities or gender. However, Google’s data actually indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team thrive.
As a result of this research, Google identified five ways managers can effectively nurture psychological safety within their teams:
- When interacting with team members, you should not interrupt teammates during conversations. Ask questions about the matter at hand and don’t get distracted by gadgets or emails.
- Demonstrate you are listening by validating comments and recap on what’s been discussed, acknowledging individual points of view.
- Give everyone a chance to speak up, show interest in your team as people and ask about their personal lives. Share best working practices and schedule regular discussions to further development and build inter-team relationships.
- Be inclusive, inspire people who are upset to express their frustrations and encourage teammates to respond in non-judgmental ways. Obtain input from your team before making decision’s and explain the thought process behind the final outcome.
- Take risks and encourage your team to question opinions, while giving them credit when meeting with senior leadership. Call out intergroup conflicts and resolve them through open discussions, establishing a strong sense of accountability and trust among the members.
In a typical office environment, we build trust through regular daily interactions; grabbing a coffee/lunch together or a quick catch up in the elevator after a meeting, helps us to build trust during daily shared experiences.
Remote trust can be much more difficult to achieve, without those casual collisions and face-to-face socialising. Your interactions are often through email, on the phone or via a video platform – which is far from ideal when it comes to building trust as they are sporadic and impersonal. More emphasis is needed to work harder, consciously and in different ways when working with a remote team, to get them to trust you and each other.
Project Aristotle should be a reminder to all organisations, that when you try to optimise everything, now and then it’s easy to forget that success is built on experiences.