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Q. What’s the most important part of any team? A. The human element…

At work you’re part of a team. You (normally) have colleagues with shared goals to work towards. I would also hope that you’re interacting daily. Are open and (fairly) honest in your communication. Have agreed what the current focus and priorities are.

All sounds good so far. Maybe too good? Actually there’s more to this. Much more. There’s something bubbling under the surface. Other stuff that’s hard to quantify. A deeper level of connection.

The human element.

Feelings of Fear. Anxiety. Confidence. Uncertainty. Frustration. The unspoken. The sense. The energy.

This is actually the most important aspect of any team. To acknowledge, uncover and reveal this is where the magic happens. To create an environment of psychological safety where the team feel it’s possible to speak their real truths is the dream. This is where you’ll see productivity increase, attrition reduce and colleagues thrive. Who knows, someone might even smile once in a while too.

Now, can you imagine not having to work hard to extract this. To have people queuing up to talk to you about how they feel? To have constructive and open conversations, where conflict of opinion is not seen as a bad thing, but an opportunity to get to share and discus views from colleagues. This is the single biggest thing that will transform the way the team works. There is nothing more.

Create this. You win. The end.

How? Well this is the tricky bit.

You have to work frikin damn hard for it, because it takes patience, conflict, difficult moments. It takes you being consistent over time. But.. there are some things you can /should do to help (especially if you’re a manger or lead for the team).

  1. Go to the pub.  Seriously, go have a pint (or a lemonade if you prefer) and just chat to your co-workers about anything other than work. This really is a fantastic way to get to know the people you spend nearly as much time with as your wife/husband from Monday to Friday.

  2. Diligently observe. Be constantly on the prowl for snippets of information about your colleagues. Also note how different people react to different situations. We’re better than we think at picking up non-verbal signals from our colleagues, so trust your natural instincts.

  3. Encourage conflict. Not by ordering boxing gloves on amazon, but by ensuring everyone on the team is encouraged to share an opinion, has a voice and has full permission to disagree. Don’t get caught in the trap of trying to do everything by consensus though, the point is it’s fine to disagree and actually people are much more open to changing their view or accepting others, as long as they’ve had the chance to have their say.

  4. Weed out the wrong uns. Sometimes people just don’t fit in. They cause too much frustration or waste on a team to warrant the extra effort. Obviously you have to try to work with them, discuss the issues directly with them, offer coaching or training etc. But if all that fails cut your losses and get them out. Fast.

  5. Agree team standards. It’s really easy to do this when you’re new to a company or team, but something that every team should have in place. Create a working agreement about how you are going to behave, run meetings, and communicate in the most effective and collaborative way. Doesn’t need to be anything fancy but having even the simplest bullet point lists helps. If you work in a scrum team, you may be familiar with having a definition of done and a definition of ready – this is different. This focuses on the people on the team, rather than the work.

  6. Hold people accountable. This is something we rarely do. Even for ourselves. But when you set this standard and encourage others on the team to do so, the team start to get a little bit more fire in their bellies.  They also make sure they think carefully about what they commit to, and as such ask more questions which means more clarity and communication over all.

  7. Be available.  People should feel like they can approach you at any time, so if you have an office leave the door open, or if you sit with the team, don’t just put your headphones in and not make eye contact with anyone all day. If you find people scheduling a meeting just to ask you some questions there’s something very wrong.

  8. Demonstrate integrity. You have to show what good looks like and stick to your word and commitments. More about integrity here

  9. Provide autonomy. People don’t respond well to micro management. So don’t do it. Let them choose how they work and get stuff done. Don’t tell people how you would do it – ask them how they would do it first. Trust them.

  10. Show vulnerability. When you open up to people and they realise you’re a real person, with emotions, feelings and love, they will open up to you in return. Maybe not straight away, but in time.

This seems a lot, but by making a commitment (and holding yourself accountable) to focus on bringing out the human element of the team you work with, sticking with it, can have you going into work with a spring in your step. It’s attainable. It’s real. It is possible to create an incredibly close, productive, satisfied team at work. Can you imagine working in a team of people who freely express themselves, with integrity, vulnerability, and who want to get to know each other and work together achieve a common goal. Wow – sounds good huh?

Don’t rush it, but keep chipping away and moving forward, gradually peeling peoples barriers and layers away. Don’t give up and the benefits will come, and when they do they’ll be better than you ever imagined.

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