Have you been part of a conversation where you’ve lost all sense of time because the discussion was so engaging? Conversation so compelling you won’t leave to refill the hummus bowl for your table’s vegetable spread? (life lesson: always bring more hummus and always keep it within arm’s reach). What made those conversations so interesting? And how can we have more of them?
Conversations become meaningful when they include difficult or challenging topics, multiple perspectives, and often many possible solutions. Having these conversations are what drive change and impact for organizations. While many may agree on a topic’s importance, meaningful conversations are often the exception, rather than the rule for many teams.
Compelling conversations don’t happen by accident. Our last post focused on better board meetings, here we are delving into the relationships connecting the team. Being intentional about team chemistry can help improve conversations. Designing a “Team Alliance” is a way to formalize the chemistry that creates engaging and impactful conversation. In this post, we will focus on three aspects of social dynamics that are critical to conversations: the atmosphere, responsibility, and behavior.
Every group is different, each with unique dynamics. We intentionally avoid providing illustrations or leading examples so your team can develop what works best. Fortunately, there are a few questions that can serve as conversation starters and help you identify your team aspirations.
CREATING THE ATMOSPHERE:
What is the culture/atmosphere/mood you want to create together? (How would you know you had that?)
What would help the partnership thrive or flourish?
These questions seek to identify the sense and feeling you desire to have in the room. It may exist already, or it may be entirely aspirational. If the questions feel abstract, focus on past conversations that were meaningful to you and reflect on what it felt like.
Setting a clear picture for what you would like the team to be, even if it feels fluffy, makes it much easier to attain than to leave expectations unspoken. Focusing on what you want (as opposed to what is missing), can also help develop a more positive, appreciative tone for your group.
How do you want to be together when it gets difficult? (Who do you want to be?)
How would you know you had that?
This is where things get interesting. If you are having important conversations, it is likely to involve a certain amount of conflict. The key is to make the conflict productive and positive (as opposed to destructive and negative). Setting some standards and expectations for how you will manage conflict serves multiple purposes. First, it can reduce the fear factor in bringing up controversial topics. Then, when conflict does come up, it can be a helpful tool to bring in to help manage the emotions in the room.
What can you count on from each other?
What’s your commitment to one another?
It’s important in this part of the conversation that team members take responsibility for what each of them will be accountable for rather than prescribe what they might need from other team members. Making these commitments personal can build better relationships between members by fostering a culture of proactive responsibility rather than one of scolding culpability.
What are the agreements around conflict, decision making & other team behaviors?
The behavioral agreements are the observable promises the team makes. Are decisions made by a single person? By consensus? How does the team move forward if there is a disagreement? How do you prevent disagreements from becoming personal?
Last, but not least, consider how you can best imbue these aspirations into your team chemistry. The conversation for developing a “team alliance” can be transformative on its own. From our experiences, the “Alliance” (the responses to the questions) is best documented and then revisited on a continuous basis, sometimes at the start of every meeting, to help ingrain the aspirations into the collective team’s approach.
Interested in learning more? We initially used behavioral agreements to support work around facilitating change, especially with collaboration and new strategy development. We were introduced to the concepts of team atmosphere and co-responsibility through the Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching Models of CRR Global. Their approach is rooted in systems thinking, emotional intelligence, and social psychology.
What are your experiences with team dynamics? What was in the chemistry that made your best, most engaging teams or conversations flow so well? Did you have intentional agreements or a team alliance? Share your experiences or ideas in the comments!