This article was based on episode 101 The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter. Get a free 30-minute coaching session with Jason when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.co/join.
When employee engagement expert Jason Treu observed teams from all over the world, one simple pattern emerged: a deep trust amongst coworkers was the crucial difference between the teams that succeeded and those that floundered.
Research confirms Treu’s observations that these teams, imbued with a deep sense of psychological safety, are the most creative and cooperative. Feeling secure, people on these teams feel confident to take risks, raise unpopular opinions, and engage in constructive conflict.
This poses an enormous conundrum for the modern manager: How does one go about cultivating trust and manufacturing scenarios in which people form deep bonds with each other without spending a ton of time, energy, and money?
THE DEEP QUESTIONS ACTIVITY
In the beginning of his quest to find a way to bond teams quickly, Jason came across a 1997 study by Professor Arthur Aaron that convened fifty four grad students - who were complete strangers - and had them ask thirty questions to each other in forty five minutes. The results? Thirty percent of the people said they created the closest relationship in their life in that one conversation.
Inspired by the study, Jason replicated this simple exercise and developed Cards Against Mundanity. Co-workers gathered to discuss a series of very personal questions. Time after time, he saw teams develop deep bonds that extended beyond this facilitated activity.
WHY DOES IT WORK?
When we don’t know each other
We spend a significant portion of our lives with coworkers, yet often we know very little about them. Instead of deep conversation, we get by with small talk. Yet, when people share their deepest thoughts and values, they begin to identify with and see themselves in each other. As they hear about their fellow staff members going through similar experiences, they feel a deep sense of connection, belonging, empathy, and care.
Questions such as “What was the most important lesson you've learned in the last year?” and “If you were to thank one person for helping you become the person you are, who would that be, and why?” open the door for conversations few of us every have.
As Jason teaches, the people in your inner circle are those who know more about you than anyone else in your life. By letting coworkers in on our deepest thoughts, they naturally become part of our inner circle, making collaboration more seamless and enjoyable.
When we don’t like each other
One reason why coworkers struggle to get along is simply because they don’t feel connected to one another. It’s easy for a negative interaction or personal sensitivity to damage a relationship leading to a negative spiral. When distrust arises, it then begets more distrust; this leads us to create false narratives in our head about the reasons why a person acts a certain way. A negative mindset leads us to view others’ actions cynically, while a positive mindset leads to viewing their actions with compassion.
By connecting over shared experiences, coworkers at odds often realize the false narratives they had constructed in their heads. They discover a new sense of compassion and are able to rebuild their relationship.
HOW TO PREPARE YOUR TEAM FOR DEEP CONVERSATION
Whether you’re gathering in person (when physical distancing is not required) or virtually, these conversations are equally powerful. But before you start, it’s helpful to prepare your team for the vulnerability of the experience. It’s natural for your staff to feel awkward about letting their guard down, so first explain the scientific data behind the idea that teams do their best work when they feel a deep sense of belonging. (Treu’s website, https://jasontreu.com, contains a plethora of information.) Remind them that the part of the purpose of the activity is to make the team stronger and make their teamwork more enjoyable. Appealing to their self-interest will also raise people’s enthusiasm and openness.
As you begin, be sure that you are the first person to open up and share. By taking risks and exposing your own vulnerability, you are role modeling the desired behavior and increasing the likelihood your team members feel safe to share as well.
CREATE THE “WORK WITH ME” MANUAL
After the collective conversation, the team is ready for the next step: creating a manual of sorts that describes how to practically work best with each team member. Each person documents their answers to questions such as my biggest pet peeves, how to best communicate with me, and how to give me feedback. Through this personal manual, coworkers can feel more confident in understanding each others’ needs. By writing all of this information down, it can be referred to regularly and rewritten if confusions arise.
Plus, when a new team member joins, they need to be integrated into the inner circle as well. Jason recommends holding another team-wide deep conversation with the new employee. The new employee can also access the previously created Work With Me manuals, to quickly understand how to work with their new colleagues.
A manager who creates safe spaces for coworkers to deeply bond can quickly turn a struggling team into a psychologically safe and productive one. Nothing is more important for the success of your team than the earnest belief that they belong to each other.
KEEP UP WITH JASON
Free Download of Cards Against Mundanity Questions: http://cardsagainstmundanity.com/
Get a free 30-minute coaching session with Jason when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.co/join. Get additional member perks such as episode guides, coaching, and access to the private Slack community to help you implement the learnings and continue to enhance your rockstar manager skills.
This article was based on episode 101 The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.