Monday, October 04, 2021
In 20 years, I have worked with hundreds of teams, but never have I witnessed such a team transformation in just 24 hours.
Let me say upfront:
I don't believe in overnight miracles, but I do believe people experience significant moments that collectively tell a miraculous story over time. Even still, it typically takes months, even years, to visibly see significant change.
But that is exactly what happened right in front of my very eyes, and I am willing to bet that the team members would agree.
The Back Story
As we know, the entire world was literally locked down in the early spring of 2020, and the majority of companies went all-virtual.
Change in and of itself is hard, but add a global health threat, personal health concerns, an ongoing integration at work, a new working environment, a new work team, and for many, working from home for the first time, kids at home 24-7, and caring for aging parents and loved ones. It's easy to see why they call it a pandemic.
Gone were the spontaneous chats with colleagues at the coffee station, or the five-minute meetings before, or after, the meeting, just to catch up. Gone were the birthday lunches in the breakroom, the 3-minute conversation walking down the corridor, the celebration dinners in restaurants, the travel experiences and offsite meetings with colleagues, and the face-to-face interaction.
I think most people would agree that the first 18-months of the pandemic was a period of constant change, and for some, sheer survival. Instead of working on the business strategy, the focus was resiliency, adaptability, flexibility, and creativity, because or in spite of the business strategy.
19 Months Later
Fast forward to September 2021, when I was asked to help build trust and strengthen personal connections among a team, who would be meeting for the first time after months and months of working together virtually.
I was excited about the challenge and nervous, too. I had zero experience working with an all virtual, recently formed team having a face-to-face meeting for the first time, so I started with something I knew how to do.
I scheduled a call with the team leader and the HR Business partner to learn more. Both were incredibly transparent, trusting me with their information. They shared what they saw as the opportunities and challenges for the team to communicate more effectively.
I have long been a fan of John Maxwell, a leadership expert, and author. One of my favorite Maxwell quotes is "everything rises and falls on leadership."
As a former colleague of mine used to say, "If you want to know how the team is doing, stick a thermometer in the leader's mouth."
I ended both calls feeling optimistic that healthy leadership and positive intention were in place, so I could check that off my list as a possible barrier to building trust and strengthening personal relationships within the team.
Then, I moved to the second thing I knew how to do, which was to have a 1:1 conversation with each team member for more understanding. If I ask the right questions, people will generally give me the clues I need to create the right agenda for the team. I realize there are basic elements for building trust and strengthening relationships. Still, every team is different, every situation is different, and what every person and team needs is uniquely different.
With the help of the HR Business Partner, we also created an engagement survey and asked for anonymous feedback that came directly to me. It was simple. Ten statements to discover if people feel included, comfortable, important, and understood.
Two invites went out to each team member, asking them to schedule a 1:1 with me and asking them to take the engagement survey. We were asking people to add two more "to-do's" on their already "too long list," but I got responses quickly from 100% of the team.
This was another thing I quickly checked off the list. The team was responsive and transparent. After getting to know each person and understanding more about them and their role on the team "up until now," I felt confident that this was a professional group of dedicated and talented individuals who had the potential to be a great Leadership Team.
Again, I felt optimistic. Sure, they had concerns and shared examples. They had questions but not all the answers. They had perceptions but were unsure as to whether their perceptions were the truth, or were they simply misperceptions.
It was a classic case of Rectangle, the Shape of Change and Growth.
I took detailed notes with every 1:1 session and studied the survey results, reading every line, and perhaps more importantly, reading between the lines. I noted common scenarios and concerns that were shared as examples, as well as common feelings and perceptions.
Then I made a list of things I heard that especially stood out to me, and I made my own assumptions for how each statement could be interpreted. In other words, I wrote down "what was said," then I translated "what it means."
Here are a few examples:
What was said
What I heard
I am not asked for input for the monthly meeting agenda.
I am not important.
He is quick to point out what's wrong with my team but never talks about how his own team can improve.
He thinks he's perfect, never part of the problem.
I am used to having a seat at the table.
They don't realize my value. I don't feel included.
Everything is shiny and rosy.
She doesn't trust me enough to tell me the truth. She is afraid to be vulnerable.
I hear about something after the decision is made.
I feel left out, and my input is not valuable.
He always asks me why.
He is questioning my decision-making.
I'm tired and overwhelmed, and lately, I have been making a lot of mistakes.
Please listen to me. I need a safe sounding board.
I keep wondering, what's behind the curtain?
Someone is hiding something from me.
They say they want us to give our opinion. So, I gave my opinion and was then told I was talking too much and let someone else talk. Since then, I have just stayed quiet.
My trust has been broken. I felt embarrassed in front of my peers. I felt blind-sided. I feel misunderstood and alone.
With all virtual meetings, there's no time to have that casual conversation between meetings.
I miss the opportunity to get to know my teammates, to have that personal connection.
Overall, they were hopeful that meeting face-to-face would give them the opportunity to get to know one another personally, to share stories and lessons learned. They also recognized the need to be vulnerable with one another to build trust and have crucial conversations for understanding.
Often during Rectangle change, we are self-absorbed, and understandably so. We ourselves are in a state of the unknown, and the focus is on "me."
Rarely does it just naturally occur to us to shift our focus from "me" to "we" or to "them."
I believe with understanding some problems solve themselves. Negative perceptions turn to positive ones, and self-awareness expands from inward to outward.
So, the transformation began.
On our first day together, each person shared a picture of what home meant to them and why. I put one picture up at a time, and the team members had to guess who submitted that picture. We heard stories of family, tradition, joys, and struggles.
Then each person shared an item that they brought from home that told a story about them, personally or professionally. Again, more "ah-ha's" and "insights."
We also learned what each person experienced during covid and even told some of our best and funniest stories of virtual meetings "gone wrong."
In terms of being at home during COVID-19, here are a few things that I heard that stood out to me:
"I have never felt lonely just because I live alone, but for a long time, my only real interaction with others was my daily conversation with the postman out in the yard. I am a people person, and COVID made me realize I am not lonely when I am alone, but I do need social interaction."
"I am in a wheelchair. I get my exercise using a pool, and all the pools were closed."
"I met the love of my life. I'm getting married and getting two children all at once!"
"I realized that I was able to get the miscellaneous information I need at work during the coffee breaks. And that I had to figure out a way to replace that virtually, not only to know what was going on but to feel included."
It was through this type of sharing that the team was able to see their colleagues beyond the virtual screen, getting a glimpse of the total person, and not just from the waist up.
Lunches, dinners, and gathering for an after-dinner drink or cup of tea, are also things that had been missing in the virtual world.
We are human beings. Most of us need more than transactional work. We need trust and connection. We need to feel like what we do matters. We need the "human touch."
The Shapes Assessment
On Day 2, we used the Shapes Assessment powered by PsychoGeometrics® to learn more about ourselves and others, our communication styles, the way we build trust, the way we think, or the way we feel.
Instantly, it was as if the team, representing diverse backgrounds, cultures, and at least six different countries, had a common language.
In just minutes, people began talking in Shapes. They were then giving instant feedback to one another, embracing conflict, and doing it with ease and laughter. What used to be avoided, hyper-controlled, or potentially explosive was gone, right before my very eyes.
The leader, who uses the Triangle in much of her communication style, but is driven by her big Circle, asked a question of someone who was more Box-like.
In typical fashion, the Box paused to think about his response before replying, but the Triangle was impatient and started to answer for him. Then much to the surprise of others, the person with the Box-like traits who is typically quiet said, "Tell your Triangle to chill for a minute. My Box needs a minute to give you an answer." Instead of being offended, shocked, or thought of as rude or an awkward situation, everyone immediately understood, and we all laughed.
Later in the meeting, it was announced that someone would be leaving a position within the organization.
Before this meeting, these various responses could have created a range of perceptions, both positive and negative for each shape.
Possible Positive Perception of the Shape
Possible Negative Perception of the Shape
I like how she (the Triangle) gets right to the point.
Because she moves fast, we will get some help!
She (the Triangle) doesn't care about the person.
She only cares about the business.
She (the Circle) really cares about people.
I like the fact she is interested in this person beyond her contribution to the team.
She (the Circle) is getting too emotionally involved.
We don't need to spend time on the personal part of this decision right now. Let's stay focused on what it means to our team performance.
I like how he (the Box) doesn't get caught up in emotion.
I like how he remains calm, focused on getting the facts before making a decision.
He (the Box) takes too long to make a decision.
He has to get every detail first.
But with Rectangle understanding, the team didn't skip a beat, recognizing the significance of each Shape contribution, and that
people typically show that they care through their natural shape.
The time together continued with more understanding, learning, discussion, and a unified commitment to continuously improve trust and connection among the team.
At the end of the meeting, I went back to the notes I had taken prior to the Leadership Team meeting. I read some of the statements people had made prior to the meeting:
I then asked, how many of you got the answers you needed to change your negative perception into a positive one?
All hands raised.
How many of you now understand what was really going on behind the scenes, and that makes you feel better?
All hands raised.
How many of you believe you can pick up the phone, send a text, or an email to any member on this team, and they will genuinely listen, want to understand, and will offer help?
All hands raised.
How many of you will assume positive intent going forward?
All hands raised.
When you have a question or negative perception of someone, will you feel comfortable talking directly to the person and having the crucial conversation for understanding?
All hands raised.
It was noted we had created a good foundation, we had made a good start, but that continuous awareness and an ongoing commitment to build trust and strengthen relationships was critical to the team's success. This would not be a "one-and-done."
And just like that, in less than 24 hours, I witnessed a team transformation, from a group of individual leaders to a leadership team.
Of course, there will be bumps, barriers, and challenges along the way. But right or wrong, I am confident that this team will work to make it right.
Click here to take the Shapes Assessment and save 20% when you use the code shapetalk.
Identify your traits, your behaviors, and how you relate to others, plus get your personalized Shapes Profile Report with tips and strategies based on your specific Shapes Score. You also get a Shapes Guide, teaching you how to communicate more effectively and Shape Flex to others.
NOTE: Susan Hite is the President of Hite Resources, Inc. since 2001 and is the creator and founder of Susan’s Train Your Brain Series,™ 7 principles for living a more peaceful, balanced, and productive life. About 20 years ago, and by coincidence, Susan was introduced to a communication tool called PsychoGeometrics®. Susan wanted to learn more, becoming a licensed and certified Subject Matter Expert of PsychoGeometrics®, and sharing how to use PsychoGeometrics® to strengthen communication with hundreds of companies and thousands of people from more than 60 countries worldwide. In June of 2021, Susan bought PsychoGeometrics®, featuring five Shapes, representing five different behaviors that can be used to link behavior to results.