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  • Writer's pictureValentina Zanetti

Preparing to Weather Team Storming

A survivalist's guide to prepare your team team and your environment to successfully weather the storming phase of your team's development!


Preparing to weather team storming

Now that you've formed your team, agreed on a framework, done the training and groomed your product backlog enough to start, and the work is underway, the storming phase of your team's development will start strong.


The next few posts I'll be discussing the ways to 'weather the storm' I've learned through my 20+ years of experience working with teams. The focus will, of course, remain on teams in digital environments, but the tools can be transposed to any environment having difficulty with the storming phase.


I've already discussed some methodologies and tools that can be used to facilitate team storming in one of the Alchemist's Digest earlier posts, How to Brew Self-Organizing Teams. But there's still quite a bit of ground work to do.


Make an Effort to Instill Psychological Safety


Psychological safety is a belief that “the group is safe for interpersonal risk taking”, according to Amy Edmondson, author of 'Right Kind of Wrong: The Science of Failing Well". It is the foundation of an environment where effective and high-performing teams can learn from their mistakes and grow. Yet, it seems that only a handful of people understand the meaning behind the phrase.


So let's demystify psychological safety. What does it look like?


🔶 It's happy, prosperous individuals, who feel included and secure enough in their environment to be open to voice their opinions, who respect their colleagues and coworkers, who are focused and committed to their objectives and self-improvement, and courageous enough to experiment and step out of their roles and comfort zones.


🔶 It's high-performing, long-lived teams who don't just cooperate, but collaborate and innovate, create new opportunities for the organization, and drive organizational progress


🔶 It's successful organizations, that pride themselves in living their values, taking care of their employees, being able to quickly pivot to market changes, and being innovators and change-drivers in their field


And how to achieve it?


𝐎𝐧 𝐚𝐧 𝐢𝐧𝐝𝐢𝐯𝐢𝐝𝐮𝐚𝐥 𝐥𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐥, psychological safety in a work environment emerges when the following is present:

🔺Job security and a livable wage

🔺Clear and achievable expectations of work performance

🔺Accommodation for specific individual needs

🔺Transparency and honest feedback

🔺Resources and tools to improve and learn

🔺Respect, appreciation and gratitude for one's efforts and contributions

🔺Freedom and encouragement to be one's true self

🔺Various career paths and the ability to decide which direction to take


𝐎𝐧 𝐚 𝐭𝐞𝐚𝐦 𝐥𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐥, it emerges when the following is present:

🔺The team has clear and achievable goals and objectives

🔺The team has the opportunity and ability to self-organize

🔺They have a say in the decision-making about the product and their work

🔺They're given the time to rest, reflect, learn and improve

🔺They're given the tools, resources and infrastructure to safely experiment

🔺They're able to easily communicate with other teams and stakeholders


𝐎𝐧 𝐚𝐧 𝐨𝐫𝐠𝐚𝐧𝐢𝐳𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐚𝐥 𝐥𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐥, it emerges when the following is present:

🔺Trust in the teams and employees without micromanagement

🔺Open communication channels between different teams and departments

🔺Investments in infrastructure and licenses used for testing and experimenting

🔺De-scaled and decentralized decision making processes

🔺Flatter hierarchies and emphasis on knowledge vs. role based authority

🔺Clarity and alignment on company mission, values and goals

🔺Accommodations and inclusion initiatives to foster diversity

🔺Team-based (rather than individual-based) rewarding systems

🔺Internal and external educational resources and tools

🔺Internal options for requalification and career changes


While you can achieve some of the benefits of agility without psychological safety, you won't be able to pick the high-hanging fruit off the agile tree without addressing it first. It's a prerequisite for creativity.


You'll notice this isn't only a team effort. An enterprise-wide effort is needed to instill psychological safety on all levels, and to reap it's full benefits. But you can use yours and the team's joint influence to improve the overall status in your company.


What can I do on a team level?


You can do quite a lot on a team level that will make a substantial difference in how your team works and how well they perform.


You can find a lot of free resources on psychological safety on Tom Geraghty's site that you can use to assess how psychologically safe your team feels, such as:


As well as tools to improve psychological safety on your team:


It's great to address psychological safety every once in a while with your team during the retrospectives. But fostering psychological safety is an every day effort, done by the entire team. What you can do to promote it is to educate your team on the importance of psychological safety.

🔸Why psychological safety is so relevant and what benefit will they have from it

🔸What kind of behavior does the team expect, but also is expected from them by their team

🔸What actions can they take when they're not feeling safe, such as reach out to you or the team

🔸What influence they can exert on the enterprise to enhance the safety of their environment


But the best way to teach and coach is always by example, so make sure to practice creating a safe environment

🔸Say “I don’t know” and normalize failure: accept that it will happen, and admit mistakes

🔸Give credit for success

🔸Avoid micro-managing

🔸Provide and ask for feedback

🔸Encourage intelligent risk taking

🔸Thank people for raising concerns

🔸Focus on outcomes, not outputs or inputs

🔸Appreciate and thank people for big and small things

🔸Ask open questions, and cultivate curiosity: “tell me more”


Diversity and Team Storming


I've also written about the importance of diversity on teams in my Choosing the Ingredients for a Great Agile Team post, but there's a lot more to say. It is the pillar on which psychological safety rests and also the source of your greatest potential for innovation.


Being 'different' is something that is inherent to every human being. No two are alike. We all have gender, identity, cultural, racial, neurological and behavioral differences that make us who we are. None of these is valid grounds for any type of exclusion or unequal opportunity to contribute.


And remember, if we deprive one person on our team or enterprise of equal participation and equal opportunity, we send a profound message to everyone else that they are not safe with their differences in this environment. That they must hide their true selves out of fear for ridicule, reprimand or exclusion.


"With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably."

Sir Patrick Steward as Jean Luc Picard



On the other hand, diversity is a power tool that will drive your success beyond your wildest imagination. There is so much research out there clearly demonstrating the benefits of having a diverse team, and these are just some of them, according to Equalture's post (with sources) 13 Statistical Benefits of Diversity Within the Workplace:


🔶 Diverse teams yield stronger financial returns, with diverse companies being 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry medians

🔶 It allows for a much larger talent pool, because 76% of folks that are looking for work are looking for diverse companies

🔶 Inclusive teams are 87% more likely to make better decisions than non-inclusive ones, because diversity triggers more careful information processing, more questions, and less blind belief in the ideas of people who pontificate.

🔶 More effective problem-solving and enhanced innovation. Diverse companies are 45% likelier to report that their firm’s market share grew over the previous year and 70% likelier to report that the firm captured a new market.

🔶 Increased employee retention. Diverse companies have up to 68.3% improved employee retention and much less turnover costs


How to Practice Diversity Inclusion on a Team Level?


Remember, there is a vast and gaping hole between diversity compliance, which is basically tolerating diverse team members and simply 'allowing' them to be present, to actual inclusive diversity.


Many companies, environments and teams still practice merely 'performative' diversity, or diversity compliance. Diverse team members are present, the 'diversity quota' has been met, and yet... Everyone is expected to talk the same, behave the same, perform the same, have the same rhythm, and the same things are expected of them. There is no accommodation for people's different cultures, different backgrounds, different ways of thinking and different needs to perform their best.


Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

Albert Einstein


So how to actually practice inclusive diversity?


🔸 Remember that 𝐰𝐞'𝐫𝐞 𝐚𝐥𝐥 𝐡𝐮𝐦𝐚𝐧 and we're all unique and different from one or another

🔸 𝐋𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐧, 𝐚𝐜𝐤𝐧𝐨𝐰𝐥𝐞𝐝𝐠𝐞 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐛𝐞𝐥𝐢𝐞𝐯𝐞 the problems your diverse team members and coworkers tell you. There is still so much 'disbelief' (gaslighting) regarding discrimination, despite all the factual data available.

🔸 𝐒𝐡𝐨𝐰 𝐤𝐢𝐧𝐝𝐧𝐞𝐬𝐬 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐞𝐦𝐩𝐚𝐭𝐡𝐲 for the difficulties your colleagues have faced on their journeys due to their differences and understand how this has affected them

🔸 𝐆𝐞𝐭 𝐞𝐝𝐮𝐜𝐚𝐭𝐞𝐝 about the statistics and information on the most frequent struggles your diversity group faces on a global and national level, get informed about their different needs

🔸 𝐀𝐜𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐦𝐨𝐝𝐚𝐭𝐞 the different needs your diverse colleagues have in their day-to-day work and modify your behaviors to be more inclusive and more comfortable towards a wider variety of people, allow them to self-organize

🔸 𝐄𝐱𝐩𝐥𝐨𝐫𝐞 each other's differences 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐥𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐧 from them, what someone with a different background struggles with and where you can help them, but also what different things they've learned along the way that they can teach you

🔸 𝐂𝐚𝐥𝐥 𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐩𝐞𝐧𝐚𝐥𝐢𝐳𝐞 discriminatory behavior, such as lewd and sexist jokes, racial slurs, cultural insults and other forms of ridiculing or offending any of your colleagues, no matter their differences


𝐃𝐢𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐬𝐢𝐭𝐲 𝐢𝐬 𝐚 𝐩𝐨𝐰𝐞𝐫 𝐭𝐨𝐨𝐥! And our differences are our assets! They provide for a wide variety of different perspectives, new ideas, and new opportunities. We're a long way away from kindergarten making fun of others for 'being different'.


Conclusions


Psychological safety and it's sibling, inclusive diversity are the foundations of any high-performing innovative team and, subsequently, enterprise. These are the foundations on which you will build your team's trust, healthy conflict capabilities, ability to commit, be accountable and focus on getting results. They're also the foundation of your company's culture and your brand as a provider and an employer.


Next post will be about real storming, team dysfunctions that arise and how to handle them. Stay tuned and subscribe!

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