How to get moving – part two

Responsive organizations emphasize the need that every individual comes into his or her own. The blog ‘How to get moving – part one’ describes that, if this is the case, people do what they want to do and which matches their skills and potential. Further to that, the organization encourages them to work with focus on their tasks and regular feedback lets them know how well they are doing (these are the four elements known to bring people in a state of flow). The next step in creating a responsive organization is to develop the right teams dynamics, suited to the vision, mission and culture of the company. These are the conditions that effective teams need:

Psychological safety
Multiple studies have shown that effective and high-performing teams have one thing in common: people feel comfortable in the team, accepted for who they are. They experience psychological safety as a member of the team. Practically this means that people dare to speak up, disagree, come up with ideas and be open about their mistakes, because they understand and feel that the team ‘has got their back’. As a result, people feel fulfilled being part of the team and the team develops a continuous learning mode, in which people thrive.

Systemic team needs
Next to psychological safety, there are other basic ‘needs’, the so-called ‘systemic needs’, for every team to perform well. These are:

  • clarity about the team’s purpose and objectives;
  • understanding and acknowledgement of the events and history relevant to the team;
  • the team is complete – all necessary roles and functions are in place;
  • there is clarity about the order in the team;
  • people in the team experience a good balance of ‘give and take‘ in the team.

Often, when teams are not functioning well, one or more of these systemic needs appear not to be in place. For example: if at some point in time, a manager has suddenly left without proper explanation from upper management, this may cause the team dynamics to suffer in a way that will give any succeeding manager very little chance for success (which is why the second systemic need is important).

If systemic needs are not met, they will be the root cause of symptoms like too many changes in team management or relatively high levels of sick leave. Resolving the root cause will help find solutions to these symptoms – fighting them does not. For example: if employee turnover is relatively high, companies may be tempted to initiate an employer branding campaign, with the purpose to increase employee retention. However, the root cause may be in one of the systemic needs. For example, there may be a lack of clarity in (team)purpose which causes a lack of motivation (the first systemic need). In such a case, the remedy is in engaging the people involved and develop a compelling purpose and clear (team)objectives. This would be the proper and lasting solution in this example. The envisioned employer branding campaign would not, because it would be initiated with the wrong motive, and hence risk to realize adverse effects.

Self-realization is an individual need. It is also a need among teams. Therefore, successful teams function in certain autonomy. Not only for this reason, there is also a practical reason: centralized decision making is in many cases no longer effective if an organization aims to be responsive. So a certain level team autonomy – up to complete self-organization – is necessary.

Therefore, effective teams have clear arrangements how they work together. These arrangements deal with the way decision making takes place, the work is divided etc. They also contain conflict resolution mechanisms.

Putting the conditions in place
The conditions as described here cannot be put in place overnight. First of all, the organization needs to define how they will work for them. Secondly, it is a continuous process that requires constant evaluation and adjustment, so the dynamics will fit the organization. In other words: the organization finds it own flow. Once the desired team dynamics are in place, they require continuous monitoring, feedback and interaction (coaching, adjustments), to ensure the teams’ performance remains at the desired levels.