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How to build a team who not only works well together but respects one another

Have you ever been in meetings where everyone (or some people) continuously interrupt others?  It’s one of my biggest pet peeves and it’s harmful to creating a harmonious, safe and collaborative environment.  Personally, it can deteriorate a relationship without you even realizing it.

About a month ago, I was working with a team of technologists and accountants on how to hold a better retrospective so they can get the most out of it and make incremental improvements – to get better as a team.

Two engineers kept interrupting each other and going way off course.  One was campaigning to take a technical approach to a software problem that the other one fully disagreed with, to the point that it became a shouting match and downright disrespectful.  There were tears.  Yeah, tears.

I observed this behavior and took some notes.  I let it play out because I wanted to see what impact it had on the relationship, as well as the overall team dynamic.

Just as I theorized, the next meeting the more dominant personality kept repeating the behavior, but the other engineer now just agreed, (although her body movement and expression was saying differently).  She clammed up and went with the flow.

At the tail end of the meeting I took the stage for 10 minutes and walked the team through my observations.  I also provided an experiment for them to try over the next two weeks.

I presented a Team Working Agreement, a set of team norms which set the expectations for the team.  These included things like “Be on time for team meetings”, “Be respectful – everyone’s ideas have merit and are valuable”.  The list went on to include about ten norms. I then worked with them to make it their own and they added several more.  I then printed it out poster size and posted it on their project room wall and had them all come up and sign it.  They had to physically commit to it.

The second thing I did was have them try out what I like to call the “1 Minute Rule”.  When someone talks, they get one minute to share their idea, state their case, etc. Uninterrupted. Then if someone else wants to challenge the idea, they have a minute, uninterrupted.  If it goes more than a couple of rounds, I table it and get them together (using the same 1 minute rule) to come up with a collaborative solution.

Since then, the team is noticeably working better together.  The shy girl, well she’s speaking up and sharing great ideas over and over again – a lot of which have been used by the team and the solution their designing.

The key takeaway in all of this, whether you’re working on a team of engineers or it’s you and your life or business partner is respect.  The best ideas and the best solutions come from collaboration.  Everyone you interact with brings value and his or her ideas and feelings have merit.  Listen, absorb, learn and then speak..  You’ll be amazed at how quickly your relationships grow.

Chris PuglisiComment