The Secret Sauce of Effective Teams
I am often asked: Can you come and speak to our group about creating a positive work culture? It is a fascinating subject, and in previous blogs I have explored ideas about the ingredients of positive work culture and how individual diversity makes teams stronger. This piece centres on the “Secret Sauce” of high functioning teams.
It Starts at the Top
My career as an operating room nurse was highly rewarding. I got to work in a fast-paced team environment where doing your job well made a big difference in patient outcomes. Looking back, I also remember that there were times of struggle – when a peer would habitually use her power and seniority to bully, when a surgeon would berate a nurse for the slightest mis-step, or when management made changes to policies while, on occasion, tuning out the input of frontline workers. At times like those, I did not exactly cherish the idea of putting on the scrubs!
So, when I watched a TEDx talk by Harvard Professor Amy Edmondson about a study into medication errors by hospital patient care teams, it was a bit of an AHA! moment. Her study looked at teams of nurses and doctors at eight hospitals over a six-month period and found that the teams ranked highest in effectiveness made more medication errors than the teams ranked lowest! This made no sense to Professor Edmondson, so she conducted further research and eventually determined that the stronger teams weren’t making more mistakes, but the nurses who belonged to the stronger teams felt more comfortable reporting their mistakes.
She concluded that the most effective teams were the ones where leaders encouraged people to speak up, where team members could voice their opinion and bring forward new ideas without fear of ridicule or rejection. In other words, the norms of behavior in the most effective teams created an atmosphere of psychological safety, where mistakes were viewed as learning opportunities rather than cause for punishment and people felt their voice was heard.
What is Your Recipe for Team Effectiveness?
Think of a team that you belong to: How does it make you feel to be part of it and how might your team be made more effective?
If you are a team leader, ask yourself what messages you are sending:
- Are you encouraging people to speak out or just paying attention to the most outspoken group members?
- Are you sensitive to what people think and feel or are you focused on just getting the job done?
It can be so tempting to cut off debate and move on to the next topic, but it may come at a cost of psychological safety and undermine your team’s effectiveness.
The best performing teams are ones where leaders give team members a measure of control and make them feel safe to take risks, ask questions, and admit they don’t know.
It is up to all of us to advocate for positive change in the workplace, from all of us on the front line to those in leadership roles. What are you doing to make change?
More posts? Bring it on!
- Taking Charge of Your Mental Energy
- Creating a Culture of Teamwork and Collaboration
- Starting a Career as a Baby Boomer and a Millennial: A Study in Contrasts