Nothing frustrates managers more than a group of talented individuals who just can’t seem to work together. When it comes to teamwork, individual strengths are simply not enough.
In order to harness a team’s highest potential, managers must actively promote two key norms to sustain a culture that is conducive to high performing teams.
First, leaders should establish Psychological Safety, a term that was coined by Harvard psychologist Amy Edmondson to describe a climate in which members of a team are comfortable in freely expressing themselves– be it in sharing their ideas, voicing out their opinions, or admitting mistakes. This climate is established and sustained when members feel safe from being ostracized, judged, or severely rebuked. In her study, Edmondson wondered why high-performing teams ironically commit more mistakes than low performing teams, until she discovered that there isn’t an anomaly at all; high-performing teams simply report more errors because they feel it safe to do so. On the other hand, teams that lack psychological safety try to cover up mistakes or pass blame on others. In order for managers to establish psychological safety, they must take care not to put down their employees, especially in front of others. They must instead treat mistakes as learning opportunities, rather than a basis for judgment of one’s character.
They must also actively promote idea- sharing and voicing out of opinions. To do so, they must not be dismissive of others. When an employee shares an idea and the leader rolls her eyes or makes a belittling remark, the employee learns not to speak up in the future.
Second, team members must learn to flex to each other’s work and communication styles. Robust research– from universities to consulting firms–has found that there are four major styles to describe the categories of behavioral preferences. We at Convergent Experience use the TetraMap© instrument to describe these archetypes as Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. Those who have high Earth tendencies are generally reliable, competitive, results-driven, and direct. They do not like small talk and prefer to go straight to the point. They focus on the bottomline, and do not like being bogged down by details. When dealing with these types, it is best to be succinct, firm, rational, and avoid idle chitchat.
Those high in the Air element, on the other hand, are clear, meticulous, and detail-oriented. They excel at creating, improving, and adhering to systems and processes to improve quality, accuracy, and efficiency. When relating with someone who has high Air tendencies, it is best to be clear, detailed, logical, and organized. For them, facts and details matter, and risks should be kept at a minimum.
For those high on the Fire element, possibilities are endless. These people are forward-looking, and their minds are continuously abuzz with ideas. They are instigators and risk-takers. They are generally sociable and talkative, full of energy and that “spark of life”. When flexing to those high in Fire, it is best not to shoot down their ideas, no matter how wild they might sound. Relate with them warmly, and express interest in their thoughts and opinions.
Lastly, those high in Water value human connection and togetherness above all else. They actively promote inclusion, prioritizing other people’s welfare above their own. They are diplomatic and non-confrontational, preferring harmony over winning. They excel at bringing people closer and are a natural at establishing psychological safety. Deal with them gently and express appreciation for them in return. Every person is a composite of the four elements, and can therefore find it within her to act appropriately towards each style. More importantly, it is incumbent upon teams to compliment each other’s styles, rather than find fault in their differences.
In order for teams to achieve important synergies, an environment of psychological safety and appreciation of one’s unique strengths are crucial. Together, they turn individual performers into unstoppable teams