Frequent, team-level correction, affirmation and sharing will result in a deeper form of communication, nurturing intuition for unity to win collectively.
The reason for Germany’s extraordinary win over Brazil was aptly summed up in one word, ‘super-blend’. Miroslav Klose, the newly crowned all-time goal scorer at the World Cup coined this term, to describe how his team managed to achieve the score of 7-1. For those of us who followed the match, it was a perfect display of team intuition and collaboration, something we like to see in our organisations.
Unity is the most desired core value by Asian companies. From the hundreds of PurposeCore workshops that we have conducted, unity and teamwork have been voted consistently by senior and middle management as the No.1 trait necessary for success. Yet, more often than not, it is in short supply. In organisational review after review, many companies suffer from turf wars, backbiting; the worse cultures are almost like ‘game of thrones’ scenarios, absolutely toxic.
We realised that over time these toxic environments happened because of the lack of regular practices to communicate differences and enhance understanding. Over time, frustration builds up and with no channel to release it, many fill their out-of-work conversations with friends about how horrible this or that person is at work.
Unlike playing soccer or even in an orchestra, you cannot immediately see the consequences of disunity. So for a lot of leaders, unity is important but they don’t know to recover it in their organisations. Many attempt to introduce behavioural studies to identify personality types, redesign offices to enhance teamwork but still to no avail.
From our experience, here are the 3 secrets to ‘super-blend’ for team success.
#1: Team-players Good, Star-players Bad
Too many organisational audits focus on who is the best player in the team and even attempt to rank people. We have tried this and have seen its harmful effects but in reality, especially at work, people succeed in partnership with others at work. So we had to do a lot to redesign the way people are measured.
Nowadays when we assist in redesigning performance audits of people at work, we place an emphasis on the following attributes:
1) The context of the environment that the person is working in?
2) Who does the person work with to create value?
3) Role of the person in terms of value creation, value management or value protection?
These 3 attributes then allow us to see the value of the person in a relational and realistic way and reflects how work gets done. You might be a super star, full of brilliant ideas but still everyone knows that you need others. Therefore it is not surprising that CEOs like Tim Cook and Satya Nadella have been emphasising teamwork because it is the very nature of work.
The other important thing is, you cannot have an environment where everyone is trying to be the boss. We have found that excessive competition creates a lot of abnormalities in workplaces. Like soccer, you must have a fair share of strikers, mid-fielders and defenders in organisations or else it will simply fall apart. So getting people to see that there is value in other roles and how everyone is needed to make a difference is critical.
#2: Open and Group-based Feedback
Every year many peer / supervisor / performance reviews are done in an impersonal way and in secret. We have found that this is extremely harmful as you cannot see reactions and provide meaningful feedback. More often than not, since the company demands it, these exercises are done for sake of doing it and does not help organisations to improve understanding and foster unity.
In additional to individual performance reviews, we have found that introducing group feedback sessions which are done face-to-face have been a tremendous help in fostering unity. We call this practice ‘Bonsai’. Just like its namesake, the aim is to allow the group to ‘prune’ each one to become better at work and enhance relationship-building.
Before a Bonsai session is called, every member is asked to write down areas of improvement and affirmation for another person according to the company’s core values. This is done at least one month in advance so that people can think calmly about their thoughts of the person. The feedback has to be specific and useful. It is not meant to be a fault-finding session and baseless comments are not allowed. For first-timers, we provide examples to ensure that people do not abuse the process.
Then the company is split into small groups of 8-10 to share their thoughts with one another. Usually the most senior person or highest ranked person in the group will be ‘pruned’ first. While a person is being ‘pruned’ he/she cannot say anything as an act of openness to listen to feedback. Then it goes on until it ends with the most junior or newest member in the team. After everyone has shared on how the other needs to improve, then another round of affirmation is done. Finally after everyone has been pruned and affirmed, each one will share his/her reflection on the feedback received.
This is obviously not an easy exercise. When we started this practice in our firm in 2006, it was difficult at first but the effect was lasting and very soon the quality of feedback improved resulting in strong relationships, enhancing the quality of work and creative output. We have since implemented this practice for different clients and the effects have been astounding. It is moving to see how a humble practice was able to bring people together and resolve long-standing differences.
For this kind of group feedback to work, it is important that management actively prevent any form of backlash or else it will destroy the trust for this type of exercise. And prior to such exercises, it is important to strengthen team dynamics hence proper facilitation is needed. We usually conduct a Bonsai after 1 day of team-building activity. So do apply this with caution as not all work environments are ready for this.
#3: Regular Moments of Reflection
Our work meetings tend to be functional and do now allow harmonisation of relationships and sharing of insights. In Asia, due to our preference to keep to ourselves, it is very rare for people to be open about their feeling and thoughts. This leads to pent-up anger and frustration; and a people that is not open about its thoughts cannot hope to innovate at all.
For organisations that is not really open about sharing, create weekly sharing moments with themes (E.g. How’s work this week, Product or Service development or Open Topics) to trigger sharing and improve understanding. Make sure these sessions do not last longer than an hour and keep it to small groups of 10 – 15 only. Have a time keeper and get one person to facilitate to make sure that everyone has a chance to share and prevent people from dominating the session.
In moments like these, the manager or the boss must make room for the others to share, and refrain from passing judgements. We have observed that clients who have conducted these sharing sessions on a sustained basis after 6 months, have seen remarkable improvement in terms of the quality of sharing and interaction among colleagues throughout the week.
For companies with more headcount, it will be a good idea to mix these groups once a month so that people have a chance to learn about the life and work of another team. Unique insights and positive stories from these moments should then be captured and shared over internal social media platforms or newsletters.
Summing it up
Once people realise the value of each other’s work, have a channel to offer constructive feedback in an open format, have different moments to interact with each other, then ‘super-blend’ will take effect quickly, resulting in the kind of unity and innovation which will shape the future.