What’s beyond To-Do list and Stand-up meetings? Ultra successful teams deliberately spend time to improve the ‘software’ of team

December 12, 2018

“There are approximately 17 million software applications and websites out there built to manage your to do list," wrote Gina Trapani, founder of Lifehacker, in 2006. Over a decade later, our work is heavily mediated by multiple workflow apps: Slack, Trello, Google docs, Zapier, Podio, Jira, Evernote, and Asana just name a few.

But, today’s top-performing teams know that effectively managing and structuring multiple To-do lists can only get you so far.

As Harvard professor Amy Edmondson explains, truely thriving teams in today’s knowledge economy must be excellent in two areas: (1) Excellence in technical execution, and (2) A high level of bonding within team members.

The first area is about scoping out the problem, structuring the boundaries and sorting tasks. It’s the ‘hardware’ of teaming, where all those To-Do apps are ready to help. But it’s the second area that is capturing the attention of managers at todays most innovative companies like Tesla, Netflix, Spotify, Google, and Amazon. That’s where teams emphasize purpose, build psychological safety, embracing failure, and promote healthy feedback. It’s the  ‘software’ of teaming.

Hardware and Software of High Performing Team

This focus on strengthening interpersonal bonds is now being validated outside the technical world, and helping more traditional companies achieve unprecedented success. These companies’ corporate culture have spawned new vocabularies that are being adopted by their peers; – Google on Psychological Safety, Spotify on Squad Model, Netflix on Freedom & Responsibility.

Google, Spotify and Netflix created own vocabulary for high performing teams

In the summer of 2015, ING Bank joined thousands of companies who started transforming their organization into an “Agile” model, inspired by some of the same technology companies mentioned above. Their journey involved over three thousand  employees at corporate  headquarters,  broken down into -9-person teams called “squads” in 13 ‘tribes’ (following the “Spotify Squad” Model).  The new organizational model is not fixed, but is rooted in principles which allows it to constantly evolve.  

The results are impressive: and has already improved ING’s time to market, boosted their employee engagement, and increased productivity.

Agility is about flexibility and the ability of an organization to rapidly adapt and steer itself in a new direction. It’s about minimizing handovers and bureaucracy, and empowering people. - Bart Schlatmann, COO of ING bank (2007-17)
ING adopted the Spotify Squad Model

Xebia, a leader in agile transformation services directly worked with nearly 120 agile coaches at ING to implement these agile methodologies. Nurturing both the right hardware AND software of teams is more crucial than ever in today’s dynamic and multidisciplinary work environment. Xebia’s agile coach Bart Bouwers helped many of those squads at ING, and spoke with us about the challenge:

“The agility journey starts with ‘Doing Agile’; learning key principles, rules and processes – The “hardware” of Agile Ways of Working. Initial results are promising, but may not be enough. Teams can stall … Nurturing a high level of interpersonal trust and mature feedback culture in a team is a crucial part of a  successful transformation”  - Bart Bouwers, Agile Coach at Xebia

Bart sees an urgent need for an effective remedy to get a team “unstuck” – Teams must overcome their ego to commit on a shared goal; they must to learn how to be vulnerable with one another in order to build psychological safety. These are proven all principles the software of a successful team. But teams in the Squad model do not always have sufficient time to get to know each other and build trust.

Bart especially remembered a squad who were suffering most. Over time they developed dysfunctional group dynamics – distrusting each other, not able to make timely decisions. The nitty gritty rules and principles of their defined way of working faced a limit when it comes to nurturing the soft qualities of teamwork. They decided to spend time to deliberately enhance their interpersonal connectivity.  

WeQ Facilitated Session at ING

One afternoon, the entire team sets 4 hours aside to play a game together called WeQ. The idea was to incorporate the latest neuroscience to give teams a transformative experience, from building rapport to communicating  shared goals, to sharing constructive praise and criticism. The WeQ session:

After the WeQ experience, team members immediately recognized the impact of the experience:

“I learned how my assertive nature has been blocking team to move forward. I should be mindful on how much I speak in meetings”
“Due to a language barrier, I had difficulty communicating. After WeQ, I was finally able to express my mind”
“I got to know my colleagues far more than before. I now understand where they come from, their motivations and drives. I feel much more connected, and can focus on the work much better”

Bart earned a WeQ Master Coach Certification to help others teams whenever he needs. Facilitating a WeQ Session for the team was such an empowering experience as an Agile Coach.

“As an agile coach I can clearly see when a team gets stuck and existing resources aren’t effective anymore. Accelerating bonding and connectivity is powerful. WeQ is perfectly filling the need of building the “software” part of teamwork. It greatly complements agile principles”  

Here’s how you can start building a right software for high performing team today.

1. Measure psychological safety

Measure the level of psychological safety that currently exists within the team. This may seem complicated, but Professor Amy Edmondson has developed a survey toolkit that makes it really easy to do.

2. Start Positive Dialogue

Giving compliments to your co-workers is powerful. It creates energy, trust and releases a powerful bonding hormone called ‘oxytocin’. Barbara Fredrickson at the University of North Carolina has found that positive emotions like trust, curiosity, confidence, and inspiration broadens the mind and helps to build psychological, social, and physical resilience.

3. Make It Ok To Speak Up

When “teaming”, there is a great temptation to sit tight and ignore your temporary teammates negative habits. This tendency can severely affect the project outcomes of the team.

4. Promote The Art of Listening Intently

When you’re “teaming”, the ability to listen intently to everyone else and understand their motivations, skills and what they can bring to the group is absolutely crucial.

5. Give managers a guide to promote psychological safety on their team

A leader has crucial impact on building psychological safety on their group. Managers can guide the group by how they demonstrate engagement, show understanding and practice inclusive manner of interaction. Here is a concise “How-To” guide for Managers who want to help their teams become stronger.

6. Play WeQ game regularly as preventative maintenance.

WeQ gamification system integrates all proven methodologies that foster psychological safety and remove bias, all into one game. By playing it regularly, teams can identify and strengthen area they need to improve, and discuss small issues before they become big (and costly) problems.  

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Do you know a business who wants to enhance the software of their team? Contact Xebia’s WeQ Master coaches to run WeQ facilitated session: https://pages.xebia.com/weq-feedback-workshop

Are you a team coach who want to use WeQ in your essential toolbox? Check if you’re qualified to become a WeQ Master Coach: https://www.weq.io/Become-a-WeQ-Certified-Master-Coach

Author

Ohyoon Kwon
Ohyoon Kwon is the Founder of WeQ. His background in design thinking has led him to explore the intersection between gamification and building high-performance teams. Ohyoon is passionate about creating amazing user experiences and bringing teams closer together.

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