Trust and Respect – the Secret of Great Teams

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There is something that has been bugging me for some time now. Why do some teams work better than others? Operating in some sort of team is the norm and yet I cannot recall having any lessons on how to be a good team player. We are somehow expected to figure it out ourselves as if it was something very easy. But if it was so easy why do we have so many dysfunctional teams, broken relationships, frustration? We, humans, are complicated and teams are even more complicated but I believe there are some simple steps we can take to become better team players. I will focus on work-related situations but the underlying principles can be applied to any context.

A study, undertaken by the People Analytics Lab in Google, found that in high performing teams team members spoke roughly the same time during meetings. The team did great when everyone got a chance to speak. How can we use this information to help our team become a better team? Simple. Observe the dynamics. Is everyone speaking and sharing their opinion? Is anyone being left out? Include the people who are not talking much, ask for their opinion, encourage them to speak. This is a simple advice that I try to follow. At a recent meeting, a couple of people were dominating the discussion and one of my quieter colleagues could not get a chance to share her opinion. I noticed this and I said: I think that Mahim wants to say something, let’s see what she thinks about this… So that is something simple that you can do: Include the people who are not talking much, ask for their opinion, encourage them to speak.

Another trait demonstrated by great teams was that team members had high social sensitivity for each other. They were able to tell when someone was feeling upset or content. In other words, they had a high level of social awareness. What can you do to improve your social awareness? Get to know the people you work with. Learn to observe. Learn to listen without judgment. I will go even one step further because in my opinion observing and assuming can cause troubles. Replace the assumptions with curiosity. If you think that you already know how the other person is feeling or what they are thinking, then you are not ready to have a conversation. It would be better if you adopted a learning mindset and asked questions. After all, you do not have all the facts. Just share your observations and ask the person how they are actually feeling. You could say something like ‘Hey, I noticed that you are not very talkative today, is everything alright?’. It’s that simple, observe and ask questions and get to know your colleagues.

The most important precondition for having a high performing team is psychological safety. This means that everyone feels safe to speak up and nobody is afraid that they will be embarrassed or rejected for voicing their opinion. Think how you respond when someone voices up an opinion that differs from yours? Do you acknowledge their perspective? Or do you try to win as if it was a zero-sum game and just rush in saying ‘You are wrong’? The truth is that it is not a zero-sum game. Each perspective is just as valid and there is not a single truth. We need to learn to listen to understand as opposed to listen to respond. This is something that I am currently working on and one thing that helps me is remembering that the other person is a human just like me and that they have beliefs, perspectives, and opinions, just like me. And they want to feel respected, appreciated and competent, just like me. Recognizing these deeper needs promotes positive language and behaviors. And it helps me shift from the I am right attitude to the thank you for bringing in your perspective attitude.

In a nutshell, a great team is a group of people who trust and respect each other. To be a great team member you just need to trust and respect the people you work with. At the end of the day, your teammates are people just like you and they want to feel respected, appreciated and competent, just like you.